General Advice

Some points to bear in mind, when writing both general and specific comments, are as follows:

• Be courteous throughout. There is no need to be superior, sarcastic or to show off. Remember the paper that you are refereeing might have been written by a postgraduate, and it could be a first attempt at publication.

Table 4.4.1 The main concerns of referees (adapted with permission from Brown (2004)

courtesy of The Scientist and Sense about Science, www.senseaboutscience. org)

Significance Are the findings original? Are they important? Is the paper suitable for this journal? Does the article justify its length?

Scholarship Does the paper take into account relevant current and past research on the topic?

Presentation Is the paper clear, logical, understandable and of the appropriate length?

Methods and results Is the methodology, and are the data and analyses appropriate?

Are there sufficient data to support the conclusion? Are there long-term as well as short-term measures? Are any weaknesses of the method commented on?

Are the logic, arguments, inferences and interpretations appropriate? Are counter-arguments or contrary evidence taken into account and discussed?

Is the theory sufficiently sound and supported by the evidence? Is it testable? Is it preferable to competing theories?

In papers describing work on animals or humans, has the work been approved by the appropriate ethics committee?


Theory Ethics

• Avoid criticising the paper because it does not do what you might have done. Judge it on its own merits.

• Explain any criticisms that you make. There must always be a reason for them. This will help the author(s) to respond to any criticisms (or not) when they are resubmitting.

• Remember that papers from overseas authors can be a special case. Here, if there are difficulties in the writing, you will have to concentrate initially on the content and not let such difficulties cloud your judgement. If you think that the paper is interesting and worthwhile, then you might either make suggestions then and there about the writing, or indicate to the editor that the paper might require careful copy-editing at a later date, if it is accepted.

• Try to help the author(s) to improve the paper. If the authors are, say, American and they include no references to relevant British work (or vice versa) it might be helpful to say so — and to give one or two easily accessible references. If you do suggest the need for additional references, always give the full citations. Nothing is more infuriating for an author than to be told by a referee that you have omitted key studies but not to be told what they are!

• Complete your report as quickly as you can, but do not rush it. The editor will be indebted to you if you respond promptly, and so will the author(s). It is appalling how long some referees take to do the job. Indeed, as noted in Chapter 4.3, to counter this, the Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research has started to pay its referees for speedy replies. • Keep the content of the manuscript and your report confidential, and do not cite such privileged information in anything that you are writing.

Clearly, there is no one way to referee a paper. Referees will find it instructive to receive from the editor, at a later date, copies of the comments written by the other referees about the same paper. They might be surprised by the differences between the reports. Some points will be shared, but others will be individual.

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