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The Peer Reviews
The peer reviewers and Associate Editor play a critical role in helping determine which manuscripts get published and the amount of revision that is requested. The timeliness of the peer reviews and the amount of revision suggested also contribute to the amount of time that will pass between a manuscript’s initial submission and its eventual publication date. In spite of their importance, we’ve learned that peer reviews can be uneven in quality and in their apparent purpose. Therefore it is the editors who must make the final evaluation of a paper’s fate, and that decision will not always follow the recommendation of one or more of the reviewers.
In terms of quality, the best reviews are those that are thorough, constructive, polite, and honest in expressing the reviewer’s opinion of a manuscript's strengths and weaknesses. It is important for the reviewer to identify both the good and bad points of a paper, and to support and justify all their comments and recommendations. Neither authors nor editors are helped if changes are suggested without an explanation of how or why (this is especially true for the comment, “the paper can be shortened by x%”).
In terms of purpose, the reviewer must remember that he/she has a responsibility to both the editor and author. Both will benefit from a candid appraisal of the manuscript. The goal is two-fold —an analysis of the contents and presentation of the paper and a summary recommendation. In the analysis, the reviewer should assess the following:
• Does the paper articulate an issue of broad significance or is it cast only in parochial terms?
• Are the data separate from interpretations?
• Are the data sound and do they justify the interpretations?
• Is the reasoning sound and logical?
• Are the conclusions plausible?
• Is the paper focused?
• Do the presentation and organization make the paper easy to read and understand?
• Are the figures clear and are all necessary to make the author’s point?
For many reviewers, the most difficult task is settling on a summary recommendation. Too often reviews that consist of pages of critical comments are accompanied by a recommendation for “accept after revision.” In some cases, reviewers seem unable to recommend that a paper be rejected; yet their review notes the need for new data, reinterpretations, and/or a complete restructuring of a study. The comments may indicate that the manuscript has one or more serious scientific flaws, or that it failed to convince the reviewer that it had reached its objectives, or that the paper contains little new or useful insight to a particular problem. Regardless of the summary recommendation, such comments alert the Editor to the fact that the manuscript should be rejected in its present form.