How to write a referee report cover letter

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How to write a referee report cover letter

Published online May 1. Abstract Most scientists learn how to review papers by being thrown into the deep end of the pool: Perhaps this is not the best way to keep an enterprise afloat.

But what should be included in a review?


What should the tone of a review be? Here I want to outline the specifics of what we at the JCI are looking for in a referee report. For the editorial process to be successful, a few things are paramount: In addition to the myriad tips listed by the Editor in Chief 4here are a few other things to keep in mind.

What is the point of a review? Peer review should help to improve a paper that is already scientifically sound.

how to write a referee report cover letter

The editors have a rule that if a manuscript is sent for external review, then we feel that it could ultimately, if appropriately revised, appear in the journal. The key thing we are looking for is comment on whether the experiments are well designed, executed, and controlled and can justify the conclusions drawn.

Remember that there is a distinction between reviewing the paper and rewriting it for the authors. Structure and function of a good review We use a form that requires referees to separate their comments into two fields: Feel free to speak plainly and passionately, if you wish, in the confidential comments field see Insightful confidential comments to editors.

Your comments need not recapitulate exactly what you have written for the authors. It is in the confidential comments field that you should place your views on whether the manuscript is appropriate for the JCI; statements of this nature should not be transmitted to authors.

This is important because it shows us what you think were the major advances as opposed to what the authors might argue are the major conclusions. This allows the editors and authors to determine how an expert in the field viewed the paper.

This first paragraph need not be long and is best finished with whether the conclusions are supported by the data and whether major or minor changes are required. An exemplary introductory paragraph taken from the review of a recently published paper 5 is shown here see What we are looking for in an opening paragraph.

In the rest of the review, you should break your comments into two bulleted or numbered sections: Speak plainly, but dispassionately — in the same tone as you would in writing a manuscript. There is no need to use all caps, exclamation points, or complicated analogies.

The goal is for the entire review to be a maximum of words. Using 20 words when you can use one will impress no one, and shorter reviews within reason are usually more helpful and constructive than longer ones. Further to this point, it is easy to tell when a review has been handed to a junior associate — the review is often overly long and lacks a big picture view of the hypothesis and its implications.

If you agreed to write the review, it is fine to review it with someone else in your lab — in fact, the editors realize that this is an important part of mentorship. But declare that you had a co-reviewer in your confidential comments, make sure that the final report has been edited as needed by you, and remember that you have assumed ultimate responsibility for its contents.

The key is to evaluate whether the experiments adequately address the hypothesis and support the conclusions. Manuscripts generally propose a hypothesis and then test this experimentally.

The results constitute an argument, usually in support of, although sometimes refuting, a hypothesis. The key to any review is to understand what is being asked?

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Do the experiments and approach adequately test the hypothesis? Do the results justify the conclusions or model? Are the studies convincing? If yes, say so. If no, state as clearly as possible what aspects are not convincing and outline experimental approaches that might be useful to address the question.

You need to focus on asking only for experiments that would bolster the foundation of the conclusions or add key mechanistic insight.

There is no point in sending the authors on a fishing expedition to add new data that might be nice but are essentially frippery.

how to write a referee report cover letter

When you ask for a specific experimental addition, justify the need for the request: You have to determine whether the experiments requested are justifiable in terms of the overall conclusions. It is unlikely that we would encourage resubmission if the referees ask for new animal lines, experiments that take more than a year, or synthesis of completely new reagents.

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