How to Review a Manuscript

The related posts: How to Review a Manuscript, How to Write a Manuscript, How (and When) to Write the Background Section of a Manuscript.

Reviewing a manuscript for a professional journal can seem like an overwhelming task, and can be time-consuming. I use this technique to help me dig into a paper quickly.

  1. Read the abstract and the title.
  2. Make a note of the central theme of the paper.
  3. Flip to the research question (usually at end of intro).
  4. Make a note of the connection or lack thereof between the research question and the theme as depicted by title and abstract.
  5. Flip to discussion.
  6. Does the discussion address the theme and question? Often, this is where a paper will fall apart first. Don’t read in great detail yet, just skim for alignment.
  7. If discussion, theme, and question do not align, then your review should focus on this. Do the next steps, but the authors either made a mistake, or didn’t actually do the work as they thought they had.
  8. If discussion, theme, and question all align, then go to methods. As above, check to make sure methods align with theme/question. Now, however, you get to decide if the methods are adequate. Not perfect. Adequate. You can note imperfections, but new reviewers are often too focused on minor details and then miss major errors. Look up any methods that you feel weak on – I do it all the time, especially for stats and even for things I’m an expert on. If I have any questions, I always double-check that my concern is legit.
  9. Dig into the results.
    1. Do the results align with the theme/question/method?
    2. Do the results need to push things further?
    3. Are figures/tables telling the story of the paper or are they difficult to follow?
  10. Dig into the discussion. The biggest mistake I see is a discussion that simply repeats results. A good discussion will tell a reader the SO WHAT of the paper. Seriously, why should anyone care enough to read it?
  11. Remember, you still shouldn’t have read much of the introduction or literature review. Read it now.
    1. Does the introduction link into the discussion?
    2. Does the discussion adequately reference both the literature they cite and the existing literature, in general? Often, people will have a misalignment between the literature they reference and their discussion. You might not know the literature well enough to know what’s missing, but GoogleScholar does.