As a peer reviewer, I sometimes feel there are issues in the manuscript but I'm not sure how they should be corrected/addressed, partly due to my inadequate expertise in those exact issues.

I also sometimes find some words/terms are incorrectly used, but as a non-native speaker I can't easily suggest alternatives.

Should I just point to such issues anyway, or ignore them since I couldn't suggest solutions?

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    If it ends us as a major revision that comes back to you with changes addressing your issues in some way, how would you decide if they have done so sufficiently? Apr 21, 2019 at 18:47
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm perhaps that is why some papers have more than one review cycle...
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 21, 2019 at 19:00
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm It is much easier to check that a proposed solution is correct, than to come up with it in the first place. Apr 21, 2019 at 19:14
  • @FedericoPoloni that isn't universally true. For example, the proposed solution may be wrong (hence there are very many extremely easy options) whereas the problem of determining if it is correct may be ill-posed or intractable. But my question wasn't necessarily rhetorical. In the kinds of problems you are thinking of, that knowledge of how to determine if a solution is correct can be used to provide guidance or requirements for the authors then when asking for revisions, rather than simply pointing out a shortcoming. Apr 21, 2019 at 20:50
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    @FedericoPoloni This is basically what the P vs NP problem in computer science is about. :) Apr 21, 2019 at 21:57

4 Answers 4


Does "peer review" mean you have to re-write the material, or just point out where the flaws may be and the author is meant to sort them?

I suggest it is the latter, so point them out and expect the author to edit / correct or justify what they meant.

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    I think there is a middle ground between "re-write the material" and "just point out where the flaws may be". I'm not familiar with academic processes but as a general practice the most helpful feedback usually does more than just point out flaws; it steers people in the right direction. This doesn't require doing the work for them. I think your answer hints at a false dichotomy that David Richerby's answer addresses a bit better.
    – quant
    Apr 22, 2019 at 7:18
  • @quant so how does this "it's the authors' responsibility to write their paper" in one of the other answers sit with you? Perhaps the primary function of a reviewer is to point out the issues and a secondary function is to provide solutions. How have you found the review process for a paper you submitted? I found it helpful - especially when discussed with my supervisor.
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 22, 2019 at 7:20
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – quant
    Apr 22, 2019 at 7:57
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    This is roughly my attitude, but: Sometimes I'd rather (because it's less work) suggest a different wording for a sentence or even a paragraph, rather than see the paper again. If the author takes my suggestion and the editor sees that, the review process is over. Otherwise, I get another thing in my inbox. And sometimes I'm more altruistic; wanting to help a student or non-native speaker learn to make better papers.
    – B. Goddard
    Apr 22, 2019 at 12:54

Yes, you should point them out. You should point out solutions to problems when you know what the solution is but, at the end of the day, it's the authors' responsibility to write their paper, not yours.


A story (and many other intersting ones) I once heard from an editorial board member of Physical Review Letters, who gave an overview talk on the editorial process of that journal at a conference, was that sometimes it happens that the reviewer switches sides and becomes a collaborator of the authors they reviewed initially.

While at first this sound strange (certainly did to me at that time as a young PhD student), I think this is more appropriate then outlining new solutions (which is nice but not necessary) the authors did not think of. I also don't think 1-2 major revisions are a good spot to discuss/recommend in-depth new solutions to a manuscript. It's common to request further data analysis/evaluation or additional measurements. But if there are major flaws in the manuscript/methodology, you should point to it, but personally I would advise/vote then to reject the manuscript for this reason.

Concerning grammar and language mistakes: The associate editor can reject publication of a manuscript, even if the peer reviewer don't vote for further revisions (due to content or language level). It's not your duty to improve the language and associate editors regulary recommend commercial english editing services, when the language level is below the standards of the journal. Personally, if I see a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes, I don't point the authors to every single one, I mention 2 or 3 to the editor and the rest is his job, not mine, especially if the manuscript is multi-authored.


You should definitively point them out, the editor might want to get an additional reviewer on those issues, and the authors can still write a nice rebuttal letter saying that the problem confusing you had been thouroughly addressed half a page earlier and they don't feel responsible for your short attention span or your incomplete grasp on English grammar. ;-)

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