One of the more frequent and most underrated activities as an academic is reviewing materials for publication. Training for this at the PhD level is often ignored. One of the interesting aspects of receiving reviews is seeing how others approach the process. Sometimes this is interesting for good reasons (as in, ‘I should do this’) and other times not-so-good reasons (‘That was a useless review’). Some of the better practices I’ve observed or picked up myself are listed here:
- Begin the review with a brief statement of what the manuscript purports to do. Something like: ‘This paper argues AAA. It tests the argument via BBB, and finds CCC.’ This should make it clear if you understood the main points of the manuscript or not. It also leads naturally to an opportunity to make a few positive points. Most of refereeing focuses on negative aspects – or reasons to reject – manuscripts, but most manuscripts also have laudatory components. It is a very good idea to highlight these, especially if you are recommending major revisions or rejection.
- If you make comments about how the literature review is missing necessary or recent references, reference at least a few of them! It’ll save everyone time, especially if you can think of the works off the top of your head. The best practice I’ve seen here, and one I’ve tried to emulate, is that whenever I recommend additional sources, I provide full reference information at the end of the review. This seems to be more common among Latex than others, but greatly simplifies a rather unexciting part of the revision process.
- Try to organize comments into categories. This allows you to condense things into a small handful of major themes for revision (I usually target 2-3). Minor comments get their own section at the end. The easiest way to deal with these is to indicate ‘minor comments’ or ‘additional comments’ in the review, and include them as a bullet-point list. Paragraph form can confuse the author if a bunch of unrelated points are linked together.