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I have recently been invited to peer review an article for the first time. I must admit I went into the process expecting to find at least a number of faults with the manuscript and the idea that I could rely at least somewhat on the number of reviews I have received on my own work to structure my own review.

However, it turns out that while this is in my field, this is a vastly different paper from the ones I ve been publishing. I tend to submit manuscripts that present some new kind of design or method, when the one I have been asked to review is an extraction and analysis of data, and it seems to me well done.

The target and the reason it was chosen is clear, they clearly present their methods and the reason they chose certain tools, the vast majority of references are recent and relevant, the topic current, and the results very clearly presented and formatted, accompanied by a great amount of figures and tables that either make it more comprehensive or condense data that would be tiring in-text. Even the level of english is good.

I find that I have no negative comments to make, but I am afraid I'll come off as unhelpful and too naive. However it seems to tick all the common boxes and even the fact that I have to search for something negative to write seems like it should be testimony enough that this is good work. The only thing that makes me less confident is that this is my first review. Is there such a thing as too positive? And what kind of impact would there be if, say, the view of the other reviewer was vastly different from mine?

Note: I am still a student but with significant research experience.

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  • @Wrzlprmft thanks for the link, however most answers seem to say something along the lines of: its not just about the level of English which is neither the OPs or my point... Dec 14, 2021 at 17:44
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    If there are N human beings who review papers, and each one reviews an average of n papers, and N is much bigger than n (which seems plausible), then for about N/n people (a lot of people) the first paper they review will be the best one they review! Dec 15, 2021 at 2:45
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    It seems that the paper should be published as it is.
    – Alchimista
    Dec 15, 2021 at 7:56
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    Maybe there are some other things you can comment on? Did the paper inspire you in any way, e.g., is there any additional analysis that would be nice (you don't need to suggest that the authors need to do it in this paper, just think about and discuss it)? Are there any additional connections to other work that you know that you could point out (maybe in your personal niche of expertise)? Those would be useful for the authors even if you start the review "I'm happy to recommend acceptance as is".
    – cheersmate
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:35

3 Answers 3

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The purpose of a review isn't to praise or condemn a work, but to help the authors improve it as needed and to help the editor make a decision about publishing.

Your review should say what you think and if you don't find things to improve, you can say that. But for the editor's benefit, say what it is that makes you recommend publishing: correctness, utility, innovation,...

The only way you sound naive is if other reviewers disagree with you, which could happen, of course, if you are new to a field. You suggest that isn't the case, so you should be fine.

I know people who write things that are very difficult to improve. It is a combination of skill, insight, and experience that puts them in that position.

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    It is not that it is some kind of revolutionary work. But it was a simple, straightforward concept and the execution very good. There is not anything for me to judge but the methods and presentation. Should I only include such comments when addressing the editor and be more brief when addressing the authors? Dec 14, 2021 at 17:34
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    That can work, but you have to judge it.
    – Buffy
    Dec 14, 2021 at 17:42
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    @riverwastaken "It is not that it is some kind of revolutionary work. But it was a simple, straightforward concept and the execution very good." That should be the core points of your review. Add some reasoning and you have a good review. There are journals where the first point would result in rejection. Take that into account.
    – user9482
    Dec 15, 2021 at 6:22
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You can recommend accept from the first review. Something like:

The target and the reason it was chosen is clear, they clearly present their methods and the reason they chose certain tools, the vast majority of references are recent and relevant, the topic current, and the results very clearly presented and formatted, accompanied by a great amount of figures and tables that either make it more comprehensive or condense data that would be tiring in-text. Even the level of english is good. I am happy to recommend acceptance as-is.

is good. It wouldn't be too positive either, since accept recommendations (either at once or later in the review process) generally read like this.

What if the other reviewer thinks very differently from you? Then there'll be a problem for the editor to solve. Chances are they'll make a revise decision and the authors will concentrate on the other reviewers' comments. There's a chance you'll be invited to review the revision in this case, although the editor can also decide not to invite you since you've already recommended acceptance.

It's unlikely the editor thinks less of you even in this situation. After all, you clearly read the paper. Divergent reviews are also not that rare - as a very rough estimate there are a few per 100 manuscripts handled. The editor might get suspicious if the other review goes "this paper is so bad I'm outraged the other reviewer recommends acceptance", but given your assessment that seems very improbable.

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Do you feel qualified to judge this paper? The journal believes you're qualified, since they asked you to review it. If you feel qualified, then don't hesitate to express your enthusiasm for the paper and don't worry about how you will appear to others. I think you could only appear naive if you don't really understand the paper and you think it's wonderful when it's not. Only you can be the judge that.

It's quite common for reviewers to disagree about a paper, sometimes rather strongly. That can be confusing for an author, so be thorough and clear in your feedback so the author understands your reasoning, especially if you request changes (which isn't the case here).

The purpose of your review is to help the author, the journal, the field, and readers by offering commentary that ensures that only high-quality papers get published and that the author has made the paper as good as it can be. If you can't think of even one way to improve the paper then say that. That would be unusual, but it's certainly possible.

Thank you for being conscientious. That will be appreciated by all concerned.

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