These instructions are for a first-time referee. Experienced
referees may want to go to the checklist at the end.
The first, middle, and last thing to remember is your
audience. That audience is usually only one person -- the editor
of the journal who is trying to make a decision on whether to publish
the article and is looking to your report for substantive advice.
Do not concentrate on a possible second reader -- the author (or
authors) of the paper. If the paper is accepted, the author will usually
not see your report. If the paper is not accepted, the editor may
send your report to the author or only send edited portions of it
The editor wants an unemotional, clearly organized report that
convincingly demonstrates that (1) you understand the paper, (2) you
have a clear opinion about the paper, and (3) you have convincing
arguments for your opinion and recommendations.
All of these points should be in a single document (kept to a single
page if possible). There are two possible additional documents.
A letter explaining a
conflict of interest relevant to the editorial decision. Such
conflicts of interest include (a) a paper on the same subject you have
submitted or are about to submit; (b) any of the authors who
are relatives, close personal friends, current collaborators, or
recent students, post-docs or professors; (c) simple bias (pro or con).
List of typos. Authors always appreciate a list of
typographical errors (``typos'') made in the manuscripts. Typos include
misspellings, mistakes in sentences, equations, figure captions, etc. A
separate list is preferable to embedding these in the primary opinion to
Checklist for refereeing
Summary of paper's reason for existence. he first
should briefly but precisely summarize the main point(s) of the paper.
Often your summary will differ from that of the authors. (The editor
will detect this). If you cannot understand the paper that is reason
Your recommendations. In that same paragraph (if it is
short) or in the next (if it is not), precisely state your
recommendation(s) with brief summaries of the reasons.
Reasons for opinion. In subsequent paragraph(s) explain
each of your reasons with sufficient detail that the editor, who is
not necessarily knowledgeable about the area but who is scientifically
literate, can understand the report.
Quality of figures. Figures and tables are a very important
part of the paper. Often the data is reported only there. Accordingly,
their success in transmitting information is crucial to the success
of the article. A rough rule is that a figure and its caption should be
self-explanatory. The reader should not have to become a detective in
order to deduce the meaning of a figure or table. The editor will --
and the author(s) should -- appreciate specific recommendations for
improving figures and tables.
Two special reasons for rejection. Even if the science of
the article is correct you should reject the article if (i) the subject
is such that few readers would turn to this journal to find such an
article and (ii) the article does not contain a ``least publishable
unit'' -- that is, there is too little new material to justify writing
an article about it.
Summary of your opinion. To aid the editor it is good to
summarize your opinion and central arguments at the end of the report.
To cite this page:
How to Referee a Paper
Edited by: email@example.com on