If you have been asked to review a paper for Agricultural Economics, you will receive an encoded link giving you secure, password-protected access to our Editorial Express web site, where you can accept or decline the request, retrieve the manuscript, communicate with the editors and eventually upload your advice to the editors and your report for the authors. This system is designed to facilitate confidential communication with us, so you can focus on evaluating the quality and value of the manuscript at hand.
Peer reviews are a fundamental feature of scientific research. Your service as a referee provides both quality control for the journal, and vital feedback to authors. Our Australian colleague David Pannell has written two marvelous papers on the refereeing process. We suggest starting with his guide to reviewers and then also reading his analysis of the process from the author’s point of view.
What follows are a few points that may be specific to our journal.
If you are asked to referee a paper for Agricultural Economics, you will receive an email with the manuscript and an encoded link to our manuscript management web site. That link will allow you to register your acceptance or refusal of the request, and allow you to alter the suggested due date. Once the review is complete, you can use another link from that email to transmit your report, or upload it directly. The report should be in two parts: a note to the editors with a specific recommendation regarding publication, and a review to the authors providing feedback on the paper without assessing its suitability for publication. Both the note and the review can be entered as either plain text or as a PDF file. If you fail to respond to the initial request or to deliver the report on time, you will receive automated reminders from the manuscript-management system; in addition, you are welcome to communicate directly with the editors, although such correspondence is not as secure as using the web site.
Agricultural Economics uses a double blind review process, by which reviewers are not informed of the authors’ identity and vice versa. It is clear, however, that referees can sometimes guess the identity of the authors, and that authors can sometimes guess the identity of the referees. This does not necessarily compromise the integrity of the review. Our concern is not anonymity as such, but fairness and objectivity. Potential biases can arise even with anonymity, due to the paper’s topic, methods or conclusions. If a neutral observer would have reason to doubt that your review can be impartial and objective, you should either decline to undertake the review, or disclose the basis for concern and explain why you are nonetheless able to deliver an unbiased review.
Your Recommendation on Publication
The first purpose of refereeing is simply to inform the editors as to the paper’s suitability for publication in our journal. This is conveyed in two steps: a summary recommendation, and then a note to the editors. The summary recommendation is chosen from a drop-down menu when you upload the review, from the following options:
- Accept with Revisions
- Strong Revise and Resubmit
- Revise and Resubmit
- Weak Revise and Resubmit
- Definitely Reject
You can also choose ”No Recommendation”. Note that “accept” or “accept with revisions” imply that further changes, if any, would not be sent back to you for review. The three “revise and resubmit” recommendations imply that you are willing to review the changes, and have offered some suggestions for the kind or revisions you believe would lead to a publishable paper. A “strong” R&R recommendation implies that these revisions are minor and the authors should be strongly encouraged to do them. A “weak” R&R recommendation implies that major revisions would be needed, and might not be worthwhile. Please use the “definitely reject” category to signal an inherent flaw that you believe cannot possibly be overcome.
Your Note to the Editors
Many factors might influence your opinion of the manuscript’s value. Your note to the editors should summarize the most important reasons that led to your recommendation, including any information that you wish to convey to the editors but not the authors. There is no need to summarize or repeat the review itself, but a sentence or two justifying your recommendation can be helpful. Later you will receive a copy of the editors’ own decision letter to the authors. If your judgment as conveyed in this note to the editors is persuasive, they may simply repeat your views as their own.
Your Review for the Authors
The golden rule applies: please try to write the kind of review you would like to receive on your own submissions. This can be a difficult task and may seem thankless, although the journal editors do keep track of review quality and can occasionally reward the most careful referees in other contexts, for example with letters of commendation for professional recognition and the promotion of junior faculty. To improve your reviews, re-read the referee reports you may have received on your own papers, so you can do for others what was most useful for you. You can also ask colleagues for their examples. Note also that once the editors’ decision is made on this paper, you will receive copies of the other referees’ reviews for comparison with your own report. In your review for the authors please do NOT mention your views regarding suitability for publication, since the editor’s decision may differ from your recommendation.
David Pannell’s Strategy
We suggest reading both of Professor Pannell’s essays at the links above. For your convenience, we reproduce his suggested refereeing strategy here, with additional comments in italics on how it applies to Agricultural Economics.
- Work from a printed copy. This makes it easier to make notes on it as you go, and to read it in places where you would not take a computer. [Also, you will probably want to put the tables and figures alongside the text, for ease of reference.]
- Read through the paper, making notes at the level of detail that is appropriate for that paper. The better the paper, the finer detail you should go to. For a paper that is excellent and needs only very minor revisions to be accepted, you might even note problems with punctuation and spelling, if they are not too numerous. For a paper that is terrible, you would only note major issues, or even major groups of issues. Sometimes I get hooked into rewording sentences. You should only do this if the paper doesn’t need too much of it. If bits need rewriting, say so in your review.
- If the decision is really obvious and you are confident about your ability to judge the paper, you could write your review immediately after your first reading. Otherwise, leave it a few days or a week and come back to it. Read it again, or read problem sections again, and then write your review.
- When selecting your recommendation, consider the prestige of the journal and the usual standard of articles it includes. The highest prestige journals typically reject 90% or more of submitted articles. You are unlikely to be asked to review for such a journal early in your publishing career, unless you have managed to publish in one yourself. The least selective journals probably accept somewhere around 50-70% of submitted articles (after revision of course), but most journals probably accept between 20 and 50% of submissions. [Note that Agricultural Economics has an acceptance rate of about 25%.]
- If you are not going to reject the paper, obtain a copy of a recent issue of the journal, or a paper from a recent issue, to check on formatting of headings, tables, figures, references. Note any problems in these areas in your review. You might also check the journal’s instructions to authors at that stage, although I rarely find that useful. [We agree: recent issues are the best guide to appropriate formatting.]
- Write the manuscript reference number and title at the top of your review. [Yes, if you choose to submit a PDF file. If you submit plain text, this will be added automatically.]
- Always number your comments. If you have multiple related comments, number them separately. This allows the editor and the authors to easily refer to your comments in further correspondence.
- Start by saying something positive about the paper, no matter how difficult this is. Say as many positive things as the paper deserves (or one more than that if it doesn’t deserve any) before you get into criticisms.
- Some reviewers provide an overview of the paper. There is no need to do this. The editor will read the paper too and the authors already know what’s in it! [This is the only one of David Pannell’s suggestions with which we disagree. A brief summary of the paper can help establish that the referee understands the paper, and understands it in the same way as the other referees and the authors themselves. Summarizing the paper’s content in a few sentences takes only a few minutes, and can greatly improve the value of the report.]
- Next, note any concerns or problems at the big picture level. e.g. relating to the overall approach, the statistical methods, the interpretation of results, the quality of presentation or writing. [We would add that referees are chosen due to their expertise in specific areas. You may choose to focus only on those aspects of the paper that seem most relevant to you.]
- Then, start presenting specific comments on the paper. Note the page number and the line number for each comment if possible. Start with most important or serious of the specific comments, and then include any minor issues.
- There is no need to write a conclusion to your review.
- If you have cited any literature, provide complete reference details.
- At the end of a review, I write “End.” on a line by itself to make it clear that there is no further information and no lost pages.
- Respond as quickly as you can manage. [But no faster! If a short delay would allow you to do a significantly better report, please send a quick email notifying the editors of your intention.]