How to Write An Effective Manuscript Review by heatherrhunt


									 the lab
                                                    states an overall recommendation             which there can be reasonable dis-
                                                    (e.g., publish with minor revisions,         agreement. Although it is fine to of-
                                                    substantial revision required before         fer your opinion on such matters,
                                                    possible publication, or reject).            you should not use your position as
                                                        Following the summary and evalu-         a reviewer to force your personal
                                                    ation, provide specific comments.            views into the paper. Along similar
                                                    These can come in several flavors.           lines, a manuscript review is not the
                                                    Sometimes you will have serious con-         appropriate place to insist that the
                                                    cerns about scientific correctness and        authors redesign their entire re-
                                                    the comments should explain the con-         search program. You can make sug-
                                                    cern. In other cases, you will have a        gestions for future research, but the
                                                    suggestion as to how the paper could         focus of the review should be the
                                                    be made clearer (e.g., some data could       evaluation and improvement of the
                                                    be replotted to good effect). Finally        paper in hand. Finally, you will of-
                                                    you may want to point out related lit-       ten review papers on topics related
                                                    erature that should be considered.           to your own research. You may be
                                                                                                 tempted to require that the authors
           How to Write                             Standards                                    cite your work. If you cannot resist
           An Effective                             Perhaps the most difficult issue facing
                                                    a novice reviewer is how to set the
                                                                                                 this temptation, at least recognize
                                                                                                 your bias and make the suggestion
         Manuscript Review                          criterion for publication. Here, it is
                                                    important to consider the big picture.
                                                                                                 with a soft touch.

                                                    After you have studied the paper and         Miscellaneous advice
          BY    DAVID      H.   BRAINARD            made critical specific comments, step         Authors tend to assume that if they
                                                    back and ask whether you learned             address or refute all of your points,
                                                    something worthwhile. If you did             then you will judge the revision ac-
             he editorial process serves two        then perhaps others will as well, even       ceptable for publication. Do your
         T   important functions. The first is
         to maintain high scientific standards
                                                    when technical considerations limit
                                                    the scope or security of the conclu-
                                                                                                 best to make your review meet this
                                                                                                 expectation. Thus, if the fundamen-
         for published papers. The second is        sions. Ultimately it is the editor who       tal reason you are opposed to publi-
         to help authors improve their work.        will make the judgment on border-            cation is that the paper is not novel
         An effective review helps the editor       line papers. If you are uncertain, then      or significant, be sure to say so ex-
         decide whether the paper should be         indicate explicitly what factors medi-       plicitly, in addition to commenting
         published and provides feedback to         ate your uncertainty.                        on any technical concerns. You
         authors. Yet graduate training often           Different journals publish differ-       should also try to be thorough. In
         includes little if any discussion of the   ent types of papers. For example,            my experience a typical review takes
         review process. This column is in-         some journals target brief reports of        about two single spaced pages, but
         tended to provide guidance for first        recent discoveries while others seek         longer reviews are quite common.
         time reviewers.                            thorough descriptions of mature                  If possible, provide a page num-
                                                    work. If you are reviewing for an un-        ber for each specific comment and
         Review structure                           familiar journal, browse a few issues        detail what would need to be done to
         There are many satisfactory ways to        to get a feel for what it publishes.         address it. If you also number your
         structure a review, but here is one                                                     comments it is easier for the authors
         suggestion. Begin with a short sum-        A spoonful of sugar                          to refer to them in a response. Identi-
         mary of the paper (1-2 paragraphs)         It is natural in a review to focus on        fy which of your comments are ma-
         which describes the scientific ques-        the aspects of a paper that can be im-       jor points that must be responded to
         tion being addressed, how the paper        proved, and this often leads to a nega-      in a revision and which ones raise
         approaches the question, and what          tive tone. A paper with no redeeming         minor points. When suggesting liter-
         conclusions are drawn. The summa-          qualities is rare and it is usually possi-   ature that should be considered, pro-
         ry helps orient the editor and serves      ble to bring out the positive aspects in     vide the citation.
         to assure the authors that you under-      your overall evaluation. If you make a           At some point, you may find
         stood their basic points.                  point of doing this, your review is          yourself reviewing a paper in which
            After the summary, give a general       more likely to be taken as construc-         you are unable to follow every detail
         evaluation. This can also be quite         tive. Although reviews are typically         of a derivation. This does not dis-
         short. Is the question interesting and     anonymous, write as if the authors           qualify you from reviewing the pa-
         important? Is the approach reason-         were aware of your identity.                 per, but you should identify in the
         able? Are the conclusions justified by                                                   review the portions you did not un-
         the data? Does the work represent a        It’s the authors’ paper                      derstand and venture a guess as to
         significant advance? As an editor, I       There are many issues, particularly          whether the problem was with the
         find it helpful if the review clearly      at the forefront of knowledge, about         presentation or due to a gap in your

         42   Optics & Photonics News / June         2000
                                                                                                     Continued from “Legal Lens,” page 14

own technical expertise.                  Ethics                                                     many different claims as possible,
    Make sparing use of confidential       The Optical Society of America pro-                        since these serve as “hooks” to snag
comments to the editor. Confiden-         vides guidelines for ethical practice in                   potential infringers. While in-
tial comments are appropriate if you      the publication of research, as do                         fringement may be easy to avoid
want to alert the editor to a personal    many other professional societies.                         for one type of claim, it may be
bias or offer advice about whether a      These guidelines are published peri-                       very difficult to avoid for a claim of
revision would require re-review.         odically in OSA journals and include                       another type.
But it does not help the editor justi-    a description of the obligations of re-                        A case in point is apparatus claims
fy a decision if you say confidential-     viewers. Space prohibits a complete                        vs. method claims. As mentioned
ly that you do not believe the results    summary here, but it is worth em-                          above, a properly drafted method
and then provide only minor com-          phasizing that you should be alert to                      claim has very few, if any, apparatus
ments to be conveyed to the author.       potential conflicts of interest. For ex-                    limitations. Thus, where the appara-
                                          ample, if the author is a close collabo-                   tus claim will be limited in scope by
Obligation to review                      rator you may not be able to evaluate                      the recitation of elements making up
You are under no obligation to agree      the work objectively. If in doubt, dis-                    the invention, a method claim is only
to review every paper for which your      cuss the matter with the editor before                     limited in scope by the steps recited
opinion is solicited. But once you        taking on the review. It is also helpful                   in carrying out the method. These
agree, you should strive to return        to notify the editor if you have already                   two types of claims can be comple-
your review in a timely manner. Do        reviewed an earlier version of the pa-                     mentary, so that where avoiding in-
keep in mind that you benefit from         per for another journal.                                   fringement of one may be easy,
the reviews of your own work, so that                                                                avoiding infringement of the other
you have an obligation to do your         Acknowledgments                                            may be very difficult. In Amazon.
share of reviewing. A rule of thumb is    As I noted at the start of this column,                    com’s case against Barnesandnoble.
to provide at least as many reviews as    a key function of reviews is to help                       com, the judge did not examine the
your own papers consume.                  authors improve the quality of their                       underlying software code or “how”
   In some cases you may agree to         work. Thus I would like to end by                          the ONE-CLICK® patent was imple-
review a paper and then discover          thanking the following individuals                         mented. Rather, it was the method of
upon closer reading that you do not       who provided suggestions or feed-                          ordering using a single click, without
feel qualified to evaluate it. In such     back on early drafts: Glenn Boreman,                       regard to the specific software imple-
cases it is important to contact the      Paul Callan, Kelly Cohen, Aaron Et-                        mentation or computer “apparatus,”
editor as soon as possible. He or she     tenberg, Jim Fienup, Norma Graham,                         that served as the basis for the prelim-
may decide to seek another reviewer       Denis Pelli, and Sabina Wolfson.                           inary injunction.
or ask you to evaluate only those as-
pects of the paper that fall within       David H. Brainard is with the Department of Psycholo-
                                          gy at University of California-Santa Barbara. He cur-
                                                                                                     The 4-dimensional invention
your area of expertise.                   rently serves as a topical editor for the Journal of the   The point of this month’s column is
                                          Optical Society of America A. He can be reached at         that a single invention can be
                                                                                                     viewed as and claimed up to four
                                                                                                     different ways relating to the “types”
                                                                                                     of inventions as defined in the
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                                                                                      Optics & Photonics News / June                        2000      43

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