In collaboration with a few colleagues, I have sketched out a wiki page with some guidelines for refereeing submitted journal articles.
Nearly everyone has wildly different expectations of the goals, duties, and time expenditures expected of a referee. At times this leads to combative encounters, complaints to editors, editorial decisions thought to be bizarre by both the author and referee of the same paper, and incorrect results being accepted. While every paper and process is somewhat unique, many of these problems likely stem from a lack of any guidance and the lack of a consistent set of expectations within the community. A relatively large collection of postdocs/young faculty have no idea what the expectations are for the referee process, with the only guidance being the very wide range of referee reports we have received over the years. Below, we attempt to provide some of this lacking guidance.
ROLES OF THE REFEREE:
- decide the “reasonableness” of the paper
- point out obvious errors, if any
- evaluate major claims of paper for reasonable-ness
- suggesting changes that would improve the readability and accessibility of the paper
THINGS REFEREE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR:
- redo all calculations
- identify and fix grammatical or typesetting errors
- suggesting major additions. resist the urge to try to turn the paper into one that you would’ve written. Be a referee and evaluator, not a co-author
THINGS WE WISH REFEREES DID NOT DO:
- Contrive ways to add references to their own papers
- Take three months to return a cursory report that makes it obvious they barely read the paper
- Be mean and condescending to authors they don’t know personally. Instead, consider trying to write in the same tone you would use if the author was standing right in front of you.
Do you agree with what we have there so far? What’s missing? Do you have any concrete advice on what you look for in a good referee report? What guidelines have you set for yourself as a referee?
UPDATE – In your comments, please just give the guideline you’re suggesting and refrain as much as possible from recounting your nightmare referee stories.