What reviewers look for in your submission

Eva Lantsoght
7 Jun ’18

In the past, we've mostly looked at the topic of academic writing from the perspective of the authors. From working on a writing habitsustaining writing habitsworking on several papers at the same timewriting academic bookssetting the scene for deep work and writing and focused flow, and using a template for planning your time that facilitates writing and plan a semester accordingly.

Today, we are looking at academic writing from a different perspective. As a journal paper reviewer (see my Publons profile here), what do I look for in a submission?

The elements that I look for in a review fall into two categories:

  1. General aspects of the scientific method and paper presentation.
  2. Technical and editorial details of the paper.

Therefore, I usually compose my reviews in two parts: a few paragraphs discussing the general aspects, and then a table with pages and line numbers of specific elements that I want to discuss.

The specific elements, of course, change from paper to paper, and I can't give you recommendations on that. On the other hand, the general aspects are things you can check for yourself before submission. Ask yourself the following questions before you submit your manuscript to increase your chances of success at acceptance (after review or rounds of review):

  • Who is my audience? 
    Who are you writing your paper for? If you are writing for researchers only, are you including all relevant details so that an interested researcher can continue your work? If you are writing (as well) for industry practitioners and/or government officials and policy makers, have you included recommendations for practice? Are you submitting your manuscript to the right journal in terms of audience?
  • Is my abstract written correctly? 
    An abstract follows a specific style (see my post on how to write an abstract). Make sure your abstract complies with these elements.
  • Does the introduction explain the broader context of the study? 
    Why are you studying a certain topic? What is its broader relevance and impact on society? This information should be contained in your introduction paragraph. Do not mix your introduction paragraph with your literature review - it tends to result in sloppy structure.
  • Did you include a literature review? 
    Have you presented your literature review in the right way, and not as an annotated bibliography? Did you cover all relevant references? If you did the work some time ago, did you check the current literature to see if any recent papers were published on your topic that may need to be included?
  • Did you describe your methods in sufficient detail? 
    Which methods did you use to address your research question? If you used experiments, have you described all the relevant details of your experiment? If you used a model, have you shown all characteristics and assumptions used in your model? If you derived a theory, have you included all relevant steps? Why did you study certain parameters? Can you place your work within the existing literature?
  • Have you discussed your results properly? 
    Don't make the mistake of only reporting your results. Make sure you provide interpretation for your results. How do your results fit within the available body of knowledge? Are your results as expected? If not, can you explain what happened? Can you discuss your results in comparison to existing theories?
  • What are the direct implications of your work? 
    Can you formulate recommendations for practice and/or for policy makers? Do you need to do more experiments?
  • Is your summary and conclusions section written in the right form? 
    Did you summarize the contents of your paper? Did you highlight the main findings and conclusions from your work? Make sure you don't introduce new contents in this section. Are all conclusions supported by the material presented in the paper?
  • How is your writing? 
    Did you ask colleagues and/or native English speakers to read your work? Did you proofread thoroughly for grammar, style, and punctuation? Poor writing will make it difficult for the reviewer to understand the message you want to convey.
  • Did you check your figures and tables? 
    Are all references to figures and tables done correctly in the text? Are the figures and tables in the correct style and format? Have you submitted your figures with sufficient resolution? Are your figures and tables clear, and do they contain all relevant information?
  • If relevant, did you add a list of notations? 
    If you are using parameters and formulas, you should include a list of notations for easy reference.

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