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I received an article for review from a journal I did not review for before and honestly haven't even heard of so far. It is not a predatory journal, just a journal that until quite recently had a very narrow scope that did not overlap at all with my field of research. The article I was sent to review was within my expertise, though.

To get to know the journal I had a look on their website and from what it seems they recently expandend their scope to a more broader range of topics. Yet in my opinion, the article (which would have been totally out of scope previously) still did not really fit into the new scope either. This is why I wonder: Is it rude to tell the editor that I do not think the article is within the scope of their journal, because sorting out off-topic articles is their job and that would kind of critisize their work?

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  • 6
    The editor should decide whether an article us out of scope or not. I think the job of a reviewer is to ensure the quality, originality and correctness of the paper.
    – learner
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 0:13
  • 5
    IMO, "does not really fit the scope" is quite different from "totally out of scope". While I agree that the editor should have sorted out an article that was totally out of scope, maybe they didn't feel experts enough in that new range of topics to decide on the current article?
    – Sabine
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 9:13
  • Is your appreciation of the scope of the journal based on the topic recently published articles in that journal, or on some kind of statement from the journal? If the former, then you don't really know how much they intend(ed) to expand the scope of their journal, do you? You can still comment on it, though, but probably more in a "I am surprised / are you sure" way rather than "this is off-topic". Ultimately, it's the editor's role to decide what is or isn't on-topic.
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:16
  • @jcaron I looked at the (extented) scope of their journal on their website and previously published articles. IMO the paper doesn't fit within the described new scope
    – Sursula
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:37

9 Answers 9

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I don't think it's rude as long as you communicate it non-rudely. It would be rude for the editor to expect you to blindly review a paper without paying attention to this sort of thing. For example, you could be concerned that you spend time on a review that is ultimately not used because other reviewers point out the scope mismatch and the editor chooses to reject on those grounds.

I think it's fine to say what you've said here: you were surprised at the identity of the journal relative to the content, you checked to see the journal's scope and it seemed to be outside of it. I would also include your decision to review the paper: if the editor assures you the paper will be considered in-scope, are you then willing to review? Are you not willing to review no matter what?

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    On top of this, I'd like to add that papers can be transferred: if it's deemed to be a good paper but out of scope, the editor can -with the author's consent- pass it on another journal that would be more fitting, keeping the reviews attached -with the reviewer's consent-. ....for complete honesty I should also add that I don't expect many editors to do this since afaik journals are constantly pestering them to accept more and more papers
    – Pronte
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 9:28
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I have written several reviews where I said the manuscript topic did not fit the journal. I do not think it is rude. In my experience the editors ignore this.

If somebody submitted a manuscript to the wrong journal, they might have done it because the editor asked them to. It is also possible that you were asked to review the manuscript before it was viewed by an editor.

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To add onto Anonymous Physicist’s answer: I have previously submitted a paper, which the editor sent to two reviewers. Both reviews were generally positive but Reviewer 2 mentioned they weren’t sure whether the submission fully fit the journal’s scope. The editor commented that they were inclined to agree and suggested submitting to a sister journal.

For us, this obviously amounted to a rejection (and our work was later published elsewhere albeit not in the suggested sister journal). The anecdote does show that:

  • reviewers do that
  • editors consider that
  • and sometimes editors agree after peer review.
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  • Forget etiquette, if there's half a chance it will go where it belongs, then don't pass the buck back to them. That would be 'rude' in the eye of this beholder whom has no time for reindeer games. Are we trying to fill 24h of broadcasting... or preserving the signal to the noise?
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 18:20
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    @mazura I’m afraid I don’t fully understand your comment. Could you rephrase it in a less metaphorical, more direct and to-the-point way, please?
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 7:30
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As an editor, I would not be offended if a reviewer says a paper is out of scope. Having said that, a journal may have their own set of topics that are not reflected officially on the journal's web-site.

As a reviewer, I have stated many times that a paper is out of scope, or request authors to link their paper to topics of interest.

As a reviewer, simply provide information as you see fit. Let the editor decide what is relevant or irrelevant. Above all, just write your comments professionally.

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It is not rude, but in order to say it is out of scope (which is a reason for rejection) you would have to be very sure that this is the case. If a journal is in the process of changing their scope, I think it is difficult to know for sure where they are heading to.

However, as a reviewer, you will have to state an opinion on whether the paper is written clearly and accessibly, and that depends on the audience, too. So you could give your judgement in terms of what sort of previous knowledge readers would need. Then the editor can make a decision whether this is the intended readership or not.

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I would add that almost every journal I have reviewed for has specific questions or check lists in which you are tasked to assess whether the paper fulfills the criteria to be considered 'in scope' for the journal. So no, it is not rude, it's part of normal reviewing.

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I don't think it's rude, if you couch it politely and make clear you know it's really their job. Maybe something like:

"Even though I'm just reviewing this article, I wonder if it is truly appropriate for your journal."

And then go on to your review.

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The journals I review for mostly explicitly ask whether the paper is appropriate for the journal.

But in any case, it's not rude to give an opinion on the suitability of a submission having explicitly been asked to do so, which is exactly what it means to review a paper. The editor is then free to use your advice as they see fit.

If you're worried about sounding rude to the author the put it in the confidential comments to the editor.

Note also that some journals will recommend transferring the article to a different journal within their "umbrella", and this is exactly how they would make that decision.

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I would not comment on the scope unless asked explicitly by the editor. I think it is the editors job to determine the scope. I would weight the right of the author to obtain a timely review quite high.

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