a Manuscript for Publication
Professor, Department of Information
School of Business
Virginia Commonwealth University
Published as an invited note in
Journal of Operations Management
Volume 13, Number 1 (July 1995), pp. 87-92.
If you copy, download, or circulate this
paper, please simply inform the author (at firstname.lastname@example.org) that you are doing so.
This paper is based on remarks that the
author prepared for presentation at the New Faculty Workshop held at the 23rd
Annual Meeting of the Decision Sciences Institute in Miami Beach, Florida,
November 22, 1991.
This paper offers
suggestions about how to review a manuscript submitted for publication in the
fields of management information systems, organizational studies, operations
management, and management in general. Rationales for the suggestions
and illustrative sample comments are provided.
o Action 1:
Start out with your own summary of the manuscript.
o Action 2:
Let the editor and author know what your expertise does, and does not, cover.
o Action 3:
Give “action-able” advice.
o Action 4:
Convince the authors by arguing from their own assumptions and framework.
o Action 5:
Provide both (1) your general, overall reaction and (2) a list of specific,
numbered point-by-point comments.
o Action 6:
List the manuscript’s strengths.
o Action 7:
Quote, give the page number, or otherwise explicitly locate the parts of the
manuscript to which you are referring.
o Action 8:
Offer comments on tables, figures, and diagrams.
o Action 9:
o Action 10:
Be frank, in a tactful way, about your own emotional reaction.
o Action 11:
Do some of your own library research.
o Action 12:
If rejecting the manuscript, suggest what future research efforts might
o Action 13:
If recommending a revision, spell out alternative scenarios for how the
revision could be done.
o Action 14:
Provide citations or a bibliography.
o Action 15:
Date your review.
o Why Review?
As management researchers, we regard the behavior of managers,
systems professionals, and other organizational participants to be a
manifestation of the values that they hold as members of their organization
and their profession. In the same way, we may regard our own behaviors, as
reviewers of manuscripts in the “double blind” reviewing process, to be a
manifestation of the values that we hold as members of the community of
scholars. As an author and editor, I have seen our community manifest the
best and the worst of human values in the anonymous reviews offered on
manuscripts submitted for publication. Some reviewers rise to the occasion
and give extensive help, even though the anonymous reviewing process promises
them nothing in return for their efforts. Other reviewers hide behind the
anonymity of the reviewing process, offering negative remarks that they would
not have the courage to voice in public. My immediate purpose is to offer
suggestions, based on the reviews I have seen as an author and editor, about
how to provide useful, kind, constructive, and responsible reviews of
manuscripts submitted for publication. I offer these suggestions to my
colleagues who review manuscripts submitted for publication in research
journals in management information systems, organizational studies,
operations management, and other fields of management.
1. Suggestions for Reviewing a Manuscript
For many of the
suggestions below, I offer sample comments to illustrate my points. I have
based these comments on actual reviews.
1.1 Start out with
Your Own Summary of the Manuscript
As a reviewer for a manuscript, I was surprised, upon
subsequently receiving the associate editor’s own review, to see that he
began with a summary of the manuscript. After all, an author knows what his
or her own manuscript is about, so why summarize it?
Apparently, at least in this case, the
summary was provided for the benefit of the senior editor, not necessarily
the author. The associate editor’s review was, I realized, as much a
recommendation to the senior editor as it was an explanation to the authors.
Because a reviewer’s review is, in the same way, a recommendation to an
editor, I have come to believe that a summary of the manuscript being
considered is no less useful in the reviewer’s review.
I now believe that an opening summary may
also be useful to the manuscript’s author and to the reviewer himself or
herself. For the author, how effectively the reviewer’s summary does or does
not capture the gist of the manuscript may serve as one measure of how
effectively the manuscript communicates its message. For the reviewer, the
very exercise of composing a summary encourages and virtually assures a
thorough reading of the manuscript.
Opening summaries are also useful to the
editor when the manuscript is controversial. Occasionally, as an editor, I have
wondered if the different reviewers assigned to a controversial manuscript
have actually been sent the same manuscript. An opening summary of the
manuscript, presented from the reviewer’s own perspective, would be a big
help to the editor when he or she is trying to reach a decision on a
manuscript that evokes controversial reactions.
Some illustrative sample comments are:
o This paper
represents a major effort to test two competing theories about user
satisfaction with electronic mail... The methodology of the paper consists
of... The data were gathered from two field sites... The major finding was
that... The contributions to theory and practice would appear to be...
o This manuscript
pursues two somewhat conflicting goals. It attempts to…, while it also tries
to…. The authors do a good job of the first one, but their treatment of the
second one raises more questions than it answers.
1. 2 Let the Editor and Author Know What
Your Expertise Does, and Does Not, Cover
By stating where you have expertise and, no less important,
where you lack expertise, you will be helping the editor and author in their
job of interpreting and weighing your comments. Reviewers, in voluntarily
identifying where their expertise may be lacking with regard to the
manuscript being reviewed, might even gain additional credibility for their
claims about where they do have expertise.
read the paper from two perspectives: 1) someone who has employed the same
methodology that the authors are using and 2) someone who is not familiar at
all with the substantive area that the authors are investigating. My
criticisms and suggestions are offered entirely from the first perspective.
o For the reader, such
as myself, who is unfamiliar with concepts X, Y, and Z, the authors present
no helpful explanation of these concepts or justification for their inclusion
in the study in the first place…
o Another problem I
had is that, probably like most of the people who read this journal, I am not
deeply read in all three of the research fields that the authors draw upon. I
cannot judge how well this paper builds on past research.
3 Give “Action-able” Advice
Advice stated in the form of do-able tasks
is mutually advantageous to the author and the reviewer in the event that the
editor asks for a revision. For the author, the advised actions point to a
“fixed target” where he or she may aim the revision. For the reviewer, the
advised actions (as further interpreted by the editor) may serve as the criteria
on which to judge the revision. In contrast, a reviewer who offers vague
generalities, and no action-able advice, in his or her first review would
have no real “handle” with which to approve or disapprove the revision; such
a reviewer might very well find a revision returning to “haunt” him or
o If my concerns can be addressed successfully
in a revision, then I believe the paper should be published. I have
four major concerns. They are…
o Therefore, I recommend rejection, but would be willing to review
a revised version if (1) … and (2) …
o The following suggestions are provided to improve the weaknesses
pointed out above:
Clearly state the objectives,
contributions, and limitations of the study.
Provide a definition
of what you mean by Organizational Support System and use it consistently
throughout the paper.
Using this definition,
narrow down the literature review.
4 Convince the Authors by Arguing from Their Own
Assumptions and Framework
A reviewer can
always take issue with a manuscript’s assumptions and framework. However,
disagreeing with the assumptions is not always an effective reviewing
strategy because, strictly speaking, all assumptions are incorrect for what
they assume away. An alternative strategy is to accept the manuscript’s
assumptions (if only for the sake of argument) and then to point out any
shortcomings in the manuscript by examining the consequences that follow from
these assumptions. (Indeed, if the assumptions lead to no objectionable
consequences, then the assumptions might not be bad assumptions in the first
place.) By casting the review in terms of the authors’ own framework,
the reviewer might then be more likely to convince the authors by courting
and affirming the authors, rather than by disputing the authors.
o On the first page,
the paper says that it will do the following… The rest of the paper, however,
does not follow through adequately on what it promised to do. In particular,
according to the standards of the research framework that the authors
themselves have chosen, the following things still need to be done or need to
be done better… Still, there is much potential value in what the paper
initially proposed and I encourage the authors to flesh out the paper’s ideas
more thoroughly. Along these lines, my suggestions are…
If the reviewer wishes to suggest a
different framework and set of assumptions to the authors, this suggestion
would be more convincing after the reviewer has demonstrated that he or she
has given due consideration to the authors’ original framework, rather than
dismissing it outright.
Provide Both (1) Your General, Overall Reaction and (2) a List of Specific,
Numbered Point-by-Point Comments
As an author, I have
received some reviews consisting entirely of numbered, point-by-point
comments that give the impression that the reviewer was simply typing up his
or her review as he or she was reading my manuscript linearly,
sentence-by-sentence, turning it page-by-page. Whereas such a review might be
detailed and even exhaustive, I have found that such reviews sometimes
negatively criticize me on matters that I actually address satisfactorily
later in the manuscript. These reviewers do a good job of analyzing the words
in my manuscript, but they appear to put no effort into discerning what I
meant by these words. My impression has been that these reviewers considered
the reviewing job to be a burden and just wanted to get it over. I have
found that if there is no statement of an overall reaction from the reviewer,
I am sometimes left wondering about what the reviewer really means. In fact,
in this situation, I sometimes wonder if the reviewer himself knows what he
means. For these reasons, I believe that a general, overall reaction or
overview from the reviewer is needed as much as his or her specific,
However, there is at least one occasion in which a
linear, sentence-by-sentence, and page-by-page reading might be useful. When
I am a reviewer, I will occasionally amend my review by paging through the
manuscript once more and enumerating, point-by-point, any comments which I
had planned to make when I first read the manuscript, but which somehow did
not make their way into the main body of my review.
Numbering the major points in a review is
helpful to the editor and author. For instance, an editor could then
conveniently say to the author, “Pay particular attention to points 2, 3, and
5 by Reviewer 1. ”
6 List the Manuscript’s Strengths
Perhaps the most
disheartening review I have ever seen is one that began with the
single-sentence paragraph, “There are several problems with this paper,” and
followed with a numbered, blow-by-blow listing of all the alleged problems in
the manuscript. An accompanying listing of the manuscript’s strengths would
have made the review more palatable (and hence convincing) to the author.
A listing of the
manuscript’s strengths takes on added importance when the reviewer’s
recommendation is that the manuscript should be rejected. Is there really
nothing in the manuscript that would make it worthy of a revision? Making up
a list of the manuscript’s strengths would help make sure that no stone is
o The major asset of this manuscript is
that it presents a new approach to…This, in turn, raises interesting general
issues such as: (1)…(2)…(3)…
o Major strengths.
1.The objective of this paper is of high interest and use to IS
2.The authors are exceptionally clear about how this study builds
on past studies.
The methodology, while
new to IS, is clearly explained.
7 Quote, Give the Page Number, or Otherwise Explicitly
Locate the Parts of the Manuscript to Which You Are Referring
This will pinpoint what you find difficult
to understand, what you disagree with, or exactly what you believe needs to
be changed. Moreover, if the author should disagree with your assessment,
then the author may respond precisely to your objection.
the third paragraph on page 9, it is not clear to me that the authors
understand the concept of construct validity.
o On page 3, in the
literature review section, the paper says, “…only 12 percent of the past
studies examined the same factors we will be examining in this study….”
Exactly which studies were these?I do not doubt your statement, but I would
like to be able to evaluate it for myself.
o On page 2, why does
the prior research necessarily suggest that we need to study this topic, as
8 Offer Comments on Tables, Figures, and Diagrams
figures, and diagrams often appear at the end of the manuscript, they often
do not receive the attention they deserve. However, I believe that reviewing
an illustration can be equivalent to reviewing a thousand words. Because
illustrations are often overlooked in reviews, a detailed comment about an
illustration might favorably impress the author and editor, suggesting to
them that the reviewer is especially conscientious. Also, suggesting a new
table, figure, or diagram may encourage the author to sharpen his or her
o Table 6 makes no sense to me. The labels along the vertical axis
are mentioned nowhere in the text.
o I don’t understand the
reason for including Figure 4. What is the relevance of the number of X
broken down into three categories?
9 Be Kind
There are tactful
ways to express negative criticisms. For example, if you are unsure what the
contribution of the manuscript is, say “What’s new?” instead of “So
what?”I believe that if the criticism cannot be stated in a kind and
constructive way, then the criticism might not be worth stating at all. Also,
unkind remarks in a review that is otherwise valid may create difficulties
for the editor who would like to persuade the author that the review does
10 Be Frank, in a Tactful Way, about Your Own Emotional
Some reviews tend to
be dry. As an author and editor, I find that any hint or explicit statement
about the reviewer’s feelings will help me to interpret what he or she
o I had a hard time making a recommendation on this manuscript . .
.The paper is nicely written and competent, but dull. It is hard to get
excited about the findings.
o I am very excited about this paper. At a
recent conference a colleague and I were on a panel where we debated similar
11 Do Some of Your Own Library Research
In my experience as
an author and editor, I tend to give an extra measure of credibility to
reviewers who have done some library or other research for their review. This
effort makes the review appear sincere and convincing. A quotation from a
book or article that the reviewer has looked up can be impressive.
o On page 14, I was intrigued by the paper’s quotation of Carlson,
so I decided to look up Carlson’s article. My interpretation of Carlson’s
article is. . .
12 If Rejecting the Manuscript, Suggest What Future
Research Efforts Might Examine
Our own behavior as reviewers
in the “double blind” review process reveals our individual values, which may
include adversarial values and collegial values. Rejecting a manuscript and
offering only the reasons for rejection reveals a person who has no
contribution to make to the overall community of scholars. Rejecting a
manuscript, but also offering suggestions about what the author could pursue
instead or pursue differently in future research, reveals a person who is
integrated into the community of scholars and seeks to foster its growth.
13 If Recommending a Revision, Spell Out Alternative
Scenarios for How the Revision Could be Done
Simply saying “this
paper needs a good re-write” is not, by itself, helpful, especially if it is
true. Often, there is more than one way to revise a manuscript. Suggest two
or more scenarios, mention what you believe to be the advantages or
disadvantages of each one, and leave the choice up to the author.
14 Provide Citations or a Bibliography
A citation that the
author finds helpful can be as valuable as a thousand or more words in the
rest of the review.
15 Date Your Review
As an author and
editor, I do not appreciate late reviews. Once, I noticed that a colleague of
mine prominently displayed the current date at the top of a review that he
was about to send in. He said that the date would let the authors of
the manuscript know that, if the overall cycle time on their manuscript was
excessive, he was not the cause. I also suspect that a date on a review
can function as an incentive for subsequent participants in the review
process to act on the manuscript promptly.
I see four benefits
to engaging in the effort of reviewing a manuscript submitted for
Benefits to the Reviewer in the Short
Run Typically, a reviewer will receive the reviews by
the other reviewers and the editor. Doing a review therefore confers an
insider’s view of the reviewing process. The reactions of the other reviewers
and the editor all contain potential lessons for one’s own manuscripts to be
submitted for publication. In reviewing manuscripts, one also gains
access to invaluable bibliographies. Access to these bibliographies is
sufficient justification, in itself, to find the time to participate in the
Benefits to the Reviewer in the Long
Run Good reviewers are hard to find. A track
record of good reviews will enhance one’s reputation with editors, who may
then serve (if need be) as job contacts or outside reviewers in one’s tenure,
promotion, and re-appointment process. In this regard, one’s
performance in his or her review of a manuscript can be compared to one’s
performance in a job interview. Good reviews can benefit one’s career.
Benefits to Others Numerous
people have helped me launch my career as an university teacher and
researcher. When they ask me to review a manuscript for which they are
the editor or track chair, I regard their request as an opportunity for me to
return some of the help they have given me. In our research culture,
doing a review of a manuscript is a socially significant gesture.
Benefits to One’s Own School of
Thought As an author, I often have the experience in
which reviewers, hostile to and ignorant of the research traditions that I
embrace, misreview my submission. Therefore, whenever I find that I am
a reviewer for a submission that falls in my own school of thought, I expend
extra efforts to give it a careful, constructive review. Realizing that
the refereeing process is political, I will do my best to be supportive and
affirmingly critical, drawing attention to any major significant points in
the submission and delineating in explicit, constructive, and “action-able”
ways how the author’s research can be improved. As a result, the editor
would, if necessary, have some “ammunition” with which to neutralize any
hostile and ignorant reviews and thereby to justify a positive editorial
decision on this submission.
No review of a manuscript must incorporate
all the features I have described above. I am also confident that there
are additional useful features I have not yet encountered. I have identified
these features based on my own experience as a member of the management research
community. I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Do actual instances of good reviews follow
from rules for how to review a manuscript for publication, or do rules for
how to review a manuscript for publication follow from actual instances of
good reviews? I believe that there is some truth to both. Following any set
of guidelines for how to do a review may be helpful, but should not dissuade
the creative and caring reviewer from innovating additional reviewing