Notes on refereeing manuscripts and answering to comments

                Equipo de Propulsión Espacial y Plasmas, Mario Merino, 2021

Peer review

  • Peer review is an essential part of the scientific publication system
  • When you submit a manuscript, it will be peer-reviewed
  • Refeering is educational for you. You will likely review 1-2 papers during your PhD

The process of refereeing a manuscript:

  • Accepting the review invitation from the editor
  • Reading and dissect a manuscript critically
  • Writing up your review (and perhaps answer some specific questions from the editor)
  • Submit and wait for the result. There can be several rounds of review

My method to prepare the review (personal bias here)

  • Read critically the paper (abstract, introduction, objectives, methodology, results, discussion, conclusions), and mark all parts that:
    • Are not clear/well explained enough
    • Things you disagree with
    • Sketchy aspects of a simulation or experimental setup
    • Unbelievable or unexpected results
    • Parts presented as new, but which are common knowledge or already published
    • Missing information/omissions
  • In a Word file:
    • Summarize in 1-2 paragraphs your understanding of the paper
    • Give your verdict (novelty and interest of the results, appropriate but needs minor/major changes, not appropriate for this journal, etc)
    • List the major changes that must be addressed before the manuscript can be accepted
    • Include a list of minor changes or suggestions (e.g. improvements on figures, secondary comments, etc). You do not need to correct for typos

Compile the Word file to pdf and make sure your name/initials are not in the pdf, including its properties (CTRL+D)

Be polite but assertive. If you believe the paper should not be published in this journal (due to lack of soundness, novelty, or relevance) even after substantial changes, say so.

In future rounds of review, you should not add new comments.

Answering a review

When you submit a paper, it will be evaluated by external, anonymous referees (and perhaps also the editor). You will need to answer to their comments/questions and modify the manuscript accordingly before it can be published

My method to prepare the answers (personal bias here)

Provided that major/minor changes are needed:

  • Copy-paste the comments of each of them into a separate Word file
  • For each comment, draft your answer including the changes you would perform on the manuscript. Don't perform them yet, but mark these sentences (e.g. in another color) to easily identify them
  • Discuss your answer with the other authors
  • If all is agreed, apply the highlighted actions on the manuscript.

General advice when answering to a review

  • If changes are minor, your goal at this point is to minimize the chances of a new round of review and get your work published as soon as possible
  • Try to provide short, direct, compelling answers: avoid long paragraphs in the word file
  • Unless truly necessary, avoid strong changes to the manuscript
  • Be polite and thankful: referees work for free (...).
  • When in need to defend your position, use assertive language. Think of your target reader (the referee). Some psychology can help you prepare effective answers
  • But, you do not need to comply with all requests: if you believe a comment is not appropriate, argue why you will not act on it.