At JHND we rely on the goodwill of reviewers to assess the quality of the submissions that we receive. All paper submissions that are sent out for review will be considered by between one and four expert reviewers, whose comments are used by Associate Editors and eventually the Editor-in-Chief to make the decision on whether to accept or reject. As a journal serving a health profession we often approach reviewers who are practising dietitians and not embroiled in the world of academia. This means that the process of peer review may be less familiar. Whilst manuscript authors will receive feedback on their work, reviewers do not and often do not see the comments made by other reviewers of the same paper. This means that new reviewers may often be unsure of whether they are “getting it right”.
This guide is intended for those individuals, but may also be a useful refresher for more experienced reviewers.
The primary purpose of a review is to advise the journal editorial team of the suitability of the submitted manuscript. In many cases the advice will be that the paper is potentially acceptable if the authors make suitable revisions. This is where the most skill is required in constructing the review:
- You need to be constructive in feedback to the authors and avoid any language that may show disrespect for their professional standing, or the effort that was put into writing the manuscript.
- You should clearly identify the faults in the paper so that the authors can see what needs to be done to improve the manuscript. Ideally you should give some indication of which points are major issues that require the most attention.
- Write the review in a neutral manner which does not suggest to the authors that their paper will definitely be accepted if they make the changes. That is a decision for the Editor and where reviewers appear to be very supportive of a paper in the comments to the author, but actually very negative in their confidential comments to the Editor, the scene is set for queries and complaints.
A basic framework for your review
At JHND, as with most journals, the review will have three components to it.
- Comments which are transmitted to the author (this is the only feedback they will receive with the decision of the Editor)
- Confidential comments to the Editor (not seen by the authors)
- The recommendation to the Editor
Discuss the key content of the manuscript- MAJOR ISSUES
This is the core of your review and you should identify 3-4 key issues about the manuscript that must be addressed before it can be accepted for publication. It may be that some of these points CANNOT be addressed (more work needed, flawed study design), in which case you should reject the paper. The areas that your review should consider are:
- Does the work have clear objectives/hypotheses?
- If so, are these worthwhile research questions to investigate?
- Is the work original and novel? Will it add significantly to what is already known?
- Are the authors merely replicating well-established observations? If so, they would need to be adding a novel perspective to merit publication.
- Is the research design appropriate?
- Have the authors selected an appropriate population for study?
- Are there clear sources of selection bias?
- Do the authors report appropriate levels of drop-out/follow up in the study?
- Are studies of appropriate duration (e.g. a weight loss study require at least 12 months follow-up)?
- Is the sample size large enough? Do the authors report a power calculation?
- Has appropriate methodology been used?
- Are the authors using gold-standard measurement techniques? If not can they justify why not?
- Are the measurements made using robust and validated tools/assays?
- Where appropriate, have the authors allowed for confounding factors?
- Are there any clear sources of measurement/information bias, such as use of self-reported outcome measures?
- Is the statistical/data analysis approach appropriate?
- Is there sufficient depth and detail?
- Are the methods the most robust and appropriate?
- Is the data analysis easy to understand?
- Is the discussion/evaluation of the data in sufficient depth?
- A good discussion should not simply summarise the data and there should be an attempt to show how the work integrates with previous work in the field, to discuss the limitations of the study and should draw strong, well-justified conclusions.
- Do the authors show a good awareness of related work in their introduction/discussion?
- This is essential if the reader is going to be adding this to their existing stock of evidence in this area. Where does the new work fit? Does it agree with/refute earlier studies? If the new work does not fit with previous work, can the authors explain why this is the case?
- If the authors lack up to date knowledge of the field then the discussion is likely to miss important issues and will be of less value to the readers.
Discuss the key content of the manuscript- MINOR ISSUES
The same sort of areas as listed above should be considered, but here you might raise more points, all of which are issues that would improve manuscript/study quality, but none of which by themselves would constitute potential grounds for rejecting the manuscript (although a list of more than a half dozen of these might).
Discuss the presentation of the manuscript
The quality of the writing of the paper is a consideration for you as a reviewer, but only in extreme cases will it provide the basis of a decision to reject a manuscript. Extreme cases may arise if English is not the first language of the authors, in which case the main remedy would be to advise the authors to have their manuscript reviewed by a native English speaker before submitting a revised version.
Things to look out for and comment upon:
- Is the abstract an accurate summary of the rest of the paper? The abstract will be widely read on search engines and needs to be appropriate and detailed.
- Does the introduction concisely provide the rationale for doing the study? We do not require a lengthy literature review in the introduction.
- Are all of the tables and figures necessary?
- Are the tables and figures clearly presented and formatted appropriately?
- Do the paper conclusions fit the data that was presented?
- Are there typographical errors that need correcting (list them for the authors)?
- Are there any ambiguous or clunky phrases that need to be corrected (list them for the authors)?
Whilst watching out for typographical errors and poor grammar, remember that you are reviewing the scientific content of the manuscript, not acting as a proof-reader. Where many such errors exist, report back to the authors that they need to carefully edit their manuscript for spelling and grammar before the manuscript is resubmitted.
Confidential Comments to the Editor
There is no absolute requirement to make confidential comments to the Editor, but sometimes reviewers find this a useful means of flagging up key issues that they are uncertain of, or to give the Editor (who almost certainly does not know you personally) more information about the likely strength of your expertise and knowledge of the area.
- Do you have concerns about plagiarism that you wish the Editor to investigate?
- Did you find anything particularly difficult in performing the review?
- Do you feel that the paper should be checked by an expert statistical reviewer?
- Do you have any conflicts of interest to disclose?
- Did anyone else help you write the review?
You might also comment here on whether you feel the paper is really in the scope of this journal. It may be a good paper, but not really one that JHND should be looking to publish.
Making a recommendation to the Editors
This is the most important element of the review, but you should never just be ticking one of these boxes without making comments to the authors. At JHND this will be a tick-box list for you to select from.
- Unconditional acceptance
- Acceptable with minor revision
- Acceptable with major revision (Please indicate if you would be willing to reassess the manuscript)
- Unacceptable at present but of sufficient interest to warrant rewriting and reconsideration
- Not acceptable
- Not suitable for a full paper but suggest it be considered as a Short Report
- Not suitable for a full paper but suggest it be considered as a Letter to Editor
- More suitable for another journal
It is highly unlikely that you will be selecting ”unconditional acceptance” if this is the first review of a paper, although if you are reviewing a revised manuscript this or Reject are the options the journal are really looking for you to consider.
The options “Unacceptable at present”, “Not acceptable”, “Not suitable for a full paper” or “More suitable for another journal” will all trigger the rejection of the paper by the Editor, unless the other reviewer(s) disagree strongly.
Consider your selection carefully and balance a decision on the basis of the importance of the points raised in your review rather than the quantity. A well-performed, scientifically sound study that will be of interest to JHND readers should be recommended for revision if it is simply a case of poor presentation. Alternatively a perfectly presented study that contains fatal flaws in study design or analytical methods should be rejected outright.