Check the Language
Not every submission is well written. Part of your role is to make sure that the text’s meaning is clear.
Editors say, "If a manuscript has many English language and editing issues, please do not try and fix it. If it is too bad, note that in your review and it should be up to the authors to have the manuscript edited."
If the article is difficult to understand, you should have rejected it already. However, if the language is poor but you understand the core message, see if you can suggest improvements to fix the problem:
- Are there certain aspects that could be communicated better, such as parts of the discussion?
- Should the authors consider resubmitting to the same journal after language improvements?
- Would you consider looking at the paper again once these issues are dealt with?
A well-written introduction
- Sets out the argument
- Summarizes recent research related to the topic
- Highlights gaps in current understanding or conflicts in current knowledge
- Establishes the originality of the research aims by demonstrating the need for investigations in the topic area
- Gives a clear idea of the target readership, why the research was carried out and the novelty and topicality of the manuscript
The literature review should be structured.
- The literature is organized according to common themes;
- Provide insight into the relationship between the chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
- Moved from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of the research paper.
These give enough detail so that other researchers are able to carry out the same research. For example, equipment used or sampling methods should all be described in detail so that others could follow the same steps. Where methods are not detailed enough, it's usual to ask for the methods section to be revised.
This has enough data points to make sure the data are reliable. If there are insufficient data, it might be appropriate to recommend revision. You should also consider whether there is any in-built bias not nullified by the control experiments.
This section is usually no more than a few paragraphs and may be presented as part of the results and discussion, or in a separate section. The conclusions should reflect upon the aims - whether they were achieved or not - and, just like the aims, should not be surprising. If the conclusions are not evidence-based, it's appropriate to ask for them to be re-written.
This section should tell a coherent story - What happened? What was discovered or confirmed?
Certain patterns of good reporting need to be followed by the author:
- They should start by describing in simple terms what the data show
- They should make reference to statistical analyses, such as significance or goodness of fit
- Once described, they should evaluate the trends observed and explain the significance of the results to wider understanding. This can only be done by referencing published research
- The outcome should be a critical analysis of the data collected
The discussion should always, at some point, gather all the information together into a single whole. Authors should describe and discuss the overall story formed. If there are gaps or inconsistencies in the story, they should address these and suggest ways future research might confirm the findings or take the research forward.
Where a cited article is central to the author's argument, you should check the accuracy and format of the reference - and bear in mind different subject areas may use citations differently. Otherwise, it's the editor’s role to exhaustively check the reference section for accuracy and format.
You should consider if the referencing is adequate:
Are important parts of the argument poorly supported?
- Are there published studies that show similar or dissimilar trends that should be discussed?
- If a manuscript only uses half the citations typical in its field, this may be an indicator that referencing should be improved - but don't be guided solely by quantity
- References should be relevant, recent and readily retrievable.