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My referee reports look a lot like Marcus's. But I'm wondering: Why do we bother with the introductory summary, which in some cases can be quite lengthy?

Do we include it to prove to the editor that we read the paper closely? No, editors don't check. To communicate the gist of the paper to the editor? No, editors picked up on the gist when they decided to send the paper our way initially. To communicate to the author that we read the paper closely? Perhaps, but then again, our subsequent feedback will communicate the same thing if we've really read the paper closely. To help ourselves in some way, e.g. remember the major moves in the paper? Maybe, though it's often not necessary if so, since we can usually consult our notes.

Any other ideas? Should we cut the summaries?

another summarizer

I include a summary so the author can see what some other person reading their paper thinks they are writing about. If the author does not recognize the summary as their key point, then they have a problem. They are not reaching their audience on the most basic level. I also, sometimes, recommend that the author only address part of what they currently address. That is, if I am recommending revisions I might refer back to the summary and say the author should concentrate on (A) and drop (B), given that their arguments for (B) are weak, or the really original contribution is (A).


There's also this from the (now abandoned?) Notes from the Editors blog:



I agree with everything Marcus says.

On summaries: I actually find that writing the summary helps me take a few steps back, and be much more cordial in my tone. In particular, writing the summary helps me to get a better sense of just how clear I think the author's presentation was. And it helps me keep (what I take to be) the author's goals in mind as I'm writing my report. The crucial question, I think, should always be whether they've met those goals.

One thing I'd add is that I've found, as an author, that the best comments are those which suggest potential avenues of response to the referee's concern/objection, especially if it's what sounds like a fairly devastating objection, or if it touches on material that I don't know very well (my best experience concerned some finer points of logic, actually). It gives me a clear place to start as I'm reworking the paper, and it helps me orient myself vis à vis the referee's line of thinking. So: when I generate reports, I try to return the favour by suggesting what I think might be fruitful avenues of response or exploration in relation to what I take to be my most important objections.


Following up on Michel's point: even if you don't want to go as far as suggesting how to respond to the objection, please explain clearly what your objection amounts to. I've had several referee reports for R&Rs that were mostly a list of angry questions, that implied objections without stating them explicitly. This made the it hard to figure out what the objection really was, or what a satisfying revision would really look like.

Steven French

Might I also suggest this, from Beth Hannon the inestimable Assistant Editor at the BJPS:


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