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I am currently reviewing a paper, which is definitely not suitable for the journal where it was submitted (high impact, topics should be interesting for a broad audience). The content is not new and in this current state not sufficient for publication at all.

I would now recommend rejection with reference to some literature which covers the same results. I would suggest some more detailed experiments for the authors, to quantify their results and then submit it to a journal with a more narrow focus.

Here my questions: Is it ok, if I write a precise journal, like

I recommend to submit a revised manuscript to Journal XYZ, which is more focused on the authors' topic.

or should I write;

I recommend to submit a revised manuscript to another journal, which is more focused on the authors' topic.

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    I wouldn't do it as it implies you think the authors do not know what the specialist journals are in the field – StrongBad Nov 22 '13 at 10:20
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    I think recommendations are always helpful. The authors don't have to follow your recommendations. It would be even more helpful if you could give reasons why you are suggesting that specific journal (or journals). – Faheem Mitha Nov 22 '13 at 14:38
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    I've seen replies from reviewers like the following: "This is an excellent study on <insert study here> and the study is better suited to some theoretical journal (e.g. JTCC). There is no physical chemistry or chem physics discussed within this paper and thus do not see any reason to accept it for publication in <insert physical chemistry journal title>. – LordStryker Nov 22 '13 at 14:48
  • What happened to the academic freedom??? You can write anything!!! I strongly disagree with @StrongBad: everybody wants to try their paper in the flagship journal of their discipline (Science or Nature or PNAS for natural sciences, say), before falling back onto the topic journals. My immediate assumption for a paper that, in my opinion as a reviewer, does not have a broad appeal is that they authors were just trying a better journal, to see if it sticks. – StasK May 11 '15 at 14:27
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    You said that a suggestion for another journal implies that the referee thinks that the authors do not know what the journals are appropriate. I said that submitting a narrow paper to a broad, high impact journal is a reflection of the general preference to have papers published in cool journals. Some fields, like physics, have ~5 journals; others have ~500, so a suggestion by a referee saves some hesitation and indecision time for the authors. It is entirely plausible that a referee is an editor on that journal, or published a related paper there recently, and see the fit right away. – StasK May 11 '15 at 19:52
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It's definitely OK to name one or a few journals you would consider more appropriate for this paper. Some web interfaces for reviewers even have that as a built-in option.

One thing I encourage you to do is to use the journal's publication criteria to back up your opinion. These may have been given to you along with the paper, or they can be found on the journal's website. If, for example, the journal X's guidelines say:

Articles should be of high scientific quality, originality, significance, and conceptual novelty that are of interest to the wide and diverse contemporary readership of X

then it's good practice, in your recommendation to the editor, to evaluate the manuscript following these criteria. For example, you could say:

The manuscript is technically and methodologically sound, and clearly written. The conclusions are, in large part (minor exceptions noted below), supported by the results. However, it seems to me that this detailed study of knee injuries sustained in wingsuit accidents may not be of interest to many of the reader of The International Journal of Transportation Research.

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I think it's okay for you to make recommendation to the author as a reviewer although you don't absolutely have to do it.

If I were you, I would say,

I recommend to submit a revised manuscript to another journal with more focus on your topic, e.g. Journal XYZ or Journal ABC.

so that the author(s) would have more options.

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I agree with scaaahu and F'x but will add the following.

It is not normally the reviewer that makes suggestions like these. If the journal editors have sent the manuscript out for review, it should mean they consider it suitable for publication in "their" journal. It is the editors (in Chief) that makes this decision to maintain a good publication standard. So the fact that you feel this ways about the manuscript might mean the editors have slipped up or they see something in the paper that you do not.

With the above in mind, I still think it is ok to make a comment like this since the journal is also there to serve the community and as part of that you can voice your opinion about issues regarding the journal. So if you want to make such a comment, keep in mind that you do not necessarily know why the manuscript was accepted for review (mistake or not).

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    It is often the case that the editor will explicitly ask the referees to comment on whether they feel the manuscript fits with the goals of the journal. Even if the question of fit is not put explicitly in the review request, I feel, but maybe you wish to disagree as an editor, that it is always an implicit part of the task. – Kallus Nov 22 '13 at 18:31
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Once, when I (as an editor) rejected a paper for a journal that wanted papers to be of broad interest, I recommended a specific, more specialized journal. The author took my advice and sent the paper to that journal, which promptly sent it to me to referee.

  • Well it made perfect sense -- you read the paper already, why waste anybody else's time :) – StasK May 11 '15 at 14:29
  • @StasK You're right if, when submitting the paper to the second journal, the authors named me as the editor who rejected it for the first journal. But I don't know that they did that; I don't even know that they told the second editor that the paper had been rejected elsewhere. – Andreas Blass May 11 '15 at 14:31
  • Well I obviously wouldn't do either (say where the paper was before, and who read it). So in all likelihood this is the law of small numbers in action. – StasK May 11 '15 at 14:35

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