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I’m doing my first review of a journal paper.

The paper looks good other than a few spelling/grammar typos and one formatting issue where a line has a single letter extend into the center margin between the two columns. These issues are not ones that confuse the content of the work in anyway.

My decision options include accept, minor revisions needed, major revisions needed, and reject. Should I be choosing accept or minor revisions needed? Do these small types warrant a revision for journal papers? Or is it ok to accept these issues?

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Unless you are reviewing for a truly lazy editor, it shouldn't matter. No matter which selection you make, the editor will see from your report that you are asking for extremely minor revisions and act accordingly.

Generally, I recommend minor revisions in such a case, because authors might not be given the chance to correct typos in a straight acceptance, and they might appreciate a second chance to do what they should have before submitting (but almost no one does), which is to find more typos and correct them. For every one that you found, they will probably find another one.

  • If authors "might not be given the chance to correct typos in a straight acceptance", then "minor revisions" makes sense, otherwise, "accept" makes sense, as a reviewer you can check which case applies. – user2768 Feb 8 '17 at 14:58
  • "what they should have before submitting (but almost no one does)" - Speaking for myself, I always check for typos several times before submitting, and yet, I continue to find typos in my own papers that have been accepted. Sometimes when you've read something so many times, your brain sees what it expects to see, not what's there. I suspect that's the case for others as well... – darthbith Feb 8 '17 at 21:07
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    @darthbith - I do the same as you, but there are a few people in my field who have a genuine and accurate reputation for producing perfect typo-free papers. I suspect they may actually sit on their papers for six months before rereading them another dozen times for typos, or something. In any case, I take this as an indication that we should do a better job of eliminating typos from our papers. I realize that our time might be more efficiently spent writing more papers, but it is a symptom of our fallen world that we have to choose between doing one thing poorly and another thing poorly. – Alexander Woo Feb 8 '17 at 21:24
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Most journals provide copyediting service to correct spelling. If this journal will copyedit accepted papers, then I would recommend the editor accept the paper. If the journal does not provide copyediting service and requires the authors to provide a "camera ready" version before acceptance, I would recommend "minor revisions" to the editor.

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You should recommend to accept the paper. As a reviewer you are asked to judge upon the scientific content of a paper. As long as the typos do not change the paper's meaning or render it ununderstandable, it's the journal's responsibility to deal with them. The format of the printed final version is likely to change anyways, so you couldn't even forsee if those formating issues would still be present.

You can easily write in the report that the list of typos/grammar mistakes and the formatting need to be corrected for before publication in order to make your opinion clear on that point. It will then be the editor's decision on whether to send the paper back to the authors or to rely on the journal's copyediting service.

Minor revisions are meant to be chosen in case the paper in general can be recommended for publication, but there are some flaws that need to be revised. Examples could be

  • missing factors in a formula, which once inserted do not contradict the statements made,
  • left-out definitions,
  • unsufficient explanations of a generally sound method
  • too strong or too weak statements, which could easily be corrected etc.

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