Best Practices for a Manuscript Review
Tackling a manuscript review can seem like a daunting task. Through preparation and up-front organization, though, you can simplify the review process. Here are some tips that have been helpful to me.
Before beginning the actual review, I look at the review expectations provided by the editors. They serve as the framework for the review and focus my assessments. Then, as I get ready to start the review I take two steps: First, I open a blank Word document (which is where I'll make comments as I read the manuscript), and then I download the manuscript from the online submission system. If I have two screens to work with, I put the manuscript on one screen and the blank page on the other. If I have just one screen, I toggle back and forth between them.
I always make line-by-line comments on the manuscripts I review. I begin by considering the title to orient me to the manuscript, looking to see if, by itself, the title is informative. I read the abstract next to get a sense of what I will learn from the manuscript. The abstract should stand alone and provide a snapshot of the background, methods, findings, and conclusions described in the paper. As I read through the manuscript that follows the abstract, I interact with the text, describing what I read and anticipating how I believe readers will interpret the authors' meaning. My comments address questions the text raises for me and includes my personal rationale for the points I make through my comments.
As I comment, I generally speak directly to the authors—for example, saying, "I like the way you phrased this notion," or "This sentence doesn't make sense to me." In my line-by-line review, I focus on the flow of the manuscript, addressing whether one idea leads into the next and whether the arguments align to make logical sense. While I don't focus on grammar in-depth, I do speak to it if it is particularly significant. For example, frequent issues I see relate to use of the word "data." Data is a plural word, so the data "are" or the data "were." (Datum is the singular form.) Another issue I frequently encounter is misplaced prepositional phrases, as in "I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith." In my comments, I encourage authors to complete the thoughts they introduce and, when appropriate, to include what they view as implications of their thoughts. The goal of this effort is to be sure that the authors provide closure for their readers.
Throughout the review, I consider the authors' use of language and its appropriateness to the paper's intended purpose. When the manuscript serves as a research report, I reflect on the authors' conclusions to determine whether they overstate the significance or implications of findings, and I address the appropriateness of the authors' research design, commenting on the clarity and depth of its presentation.
In all, a good review is one that is thoughtful, fair, rational, and effective in helping authors develop a tightly articulated, clear report.
Written by: Laura Dzurec, PhD PMHCNS-BC ANEF FAAN, Rehabilitation Nursing Journal Editorial Board Member