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Let's assume a researcher received a paper to review. The paper is decently done and it is composed of an introductory part (about 30% of the work) and a complex part (about 60% of the paper).

The reviewer decided to assign a couple of days to address the review. However, the paper is rather dense. The introductory part looks decent, but it was long enough to exahust the review time and it had some typos that seems to point the authors have been... how to say?... lazy?

The reviewer skimmed through the complex part, found it meaningful and consistent with the introduction, but as stated before there was no time spare to dig deeply into it.

What should the reviewer do? Write privately to the editor that the paper seems fine, but it seems the authors have been lazy having skipped a complete and thorough internal review of their paper? Or should they simply submit the review as-is, avoiding personal opinions and being transparent (exhausted time doing the introductory-part review, complex part holds together)?

The journal is not predatory and has a good reputation in the field (theoretical physics).

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    Please do link to the question that inspired this one: How to deal with possibly lazy referee? Jan 30 at 15:14
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    It seems like you have at least two different questions: (a) what to do with "some" typos (possible "lazyness"), and (b) what to do if a review takes longer than anticipated or budgeted for. These are two very different issues. I would recommend you ask two separate questions. Jan 30 at 15:25
  • As a mathematician, I would never budget only 2 days to do a review of any significant paper. It looks to me like you needed to budget something like a week and a half given there is a complex part that you need to work to understand and check thoroughly. Jan 30 at 18:03
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    I appreciate the idea, but I downvoted because making fun of people's posts is not a productive way to do this. Jan 30 at 23:07
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    How to deal with possibly lazy question posters? Close the question. Jan 31 at 20:50

5 Answers 5

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What should the reviewer do?

When reviewing a paper, I try to provide positive feedback to the authors on how to improve their paper. My review process:

  1. Do a quick read:
  • If the paper passes a quick first read (e.g., it flows well and makes sense at first glance), go to step 2.
  • If the paper does not pass the first read, I provide feedback on the organization or simply say the current grammar of the paper prevents me from reviewing the paper. If I cannot understand the paper due to poor organization or grammar, I ask for a revised copy that addresses my concerns. Otherwise, I go to step 2.
  1. Focus on the technical details. Does the study design and analysis methods seem reasonable and tenable? If not, I provide feedback for how to improve the manuscript.

Write privately to the editor that the paper seems fine, but it seems the authors have been lazy having skipped a complete and thorough internal review of their paper? Or should they simply submit the review as-is, avoiding personal opinions and being transparent (exhausted time doing the introductory-part review, complex part holds together)?

I would not call an author lazy. AVOID personal insults. Instead, state what parts of the paper you think need improvement to be suitable for publication. You may ask the authors improve their organization or grammar because these limited your ability to review, but please do not insult people.

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Your role as a reviewer is not to judge the authors and label them, only to provide useful feedback about their manuscript and scientific work. You can either submit your report as it is or request the editor more time to review if you are not satisfied. You may also call their attention to check the paper for typos.

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    Actually, the role of a referee is to judge whether to recommend to the editor that the paper be published, and if not, provide an explanation as to why not -- not to provide feedback to the authors. These goals often coincide (partially because the same referee will likely review any revision, and not providing feedback just makes the referee's future work harder), but not always. Jan 30 at 15:38
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If a paper has typos and misuse of grammar and such it might be due to reasons other than laziness. In fact, it might be a "feature" of how the brain works.

I've found that proofing my own work is incredibly difficult. As I try to proof the work, my mind "sees" what I thought I wrote, not what I actually wrote, so I miss things, sometimes quite fundamental things and not just typos. I once left a book unfinished for several years because I kept missing things on review. I finally found a colleague to give me feedback so I was able to finish it.

My guess is that this is more likely in longer works than shorter and that it is (or should be) less likely with several authors. It might also be that inexperienced authors expect that journals will employ a copy editor (as book publishers usually do) to make such improvements.

I see no harm in pointing out to the editor and even the authors that the numerous imperfections detract from the work and suggest that they be corrected before publication, noting that you aren't expected to be a copy editor. The nature of a contribution is, as I'm sure you know, more important than the quality of the writing, but the latter can get in the way of understanding.

But, the mind is what it is. We ain't perfect.


A bit more background. Just as we don't normally speak in discrete words, but run words together (called continuous speech), I think we don't read the written word "discretely" either, but grasp ("grok" if you prefer) the conceptual meaning of a reasonably short phrase without needing go process words individually. That ability to "abstract" the important information from a glance is probably an important evolutionary advantage. It makes some things easy and some things hard.

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Personally I'd use more time for the review (potentially missing a deadline but then review deadlines are often flexible), and make up for the time by saying "no" to taking on the next review I'm asked to do that I'd otherwise have accepted.

Your writing gives me the impression that the content of the paper may be worth the effort, and somebody should review it thoroughly, so why not you?

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One person's "laziness" might be another's second or third language. You can certainly mention in your review that the paper has several typos/grammatical/spelling errors that would make the paper better if they were corrected, and otherwise recommend the paper be accepted if you think it should be, but there's no need to assume the authors were being lazy or call them that in the review. In general, even if the people writing a paper are obviously complete idiots who plagiarized entire swaths of their paper, it is best not to insult them in the review. You critique the paper, not the authors.

Most journals also allow you to request an extension when reviewing, so that you can do more than skim the complex parts.

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