I have been asked to review an article for an academic journal for the first time. The accepted answer to Scope for the role of peer reviewer as well as this post have given me a good idea of what to include and how to structure my review already.

What I find not mentioned in either post (but somehow seem to have it in the back of my head) is, whether I should include a recommendation to the editor about accepting the paper or not? I.e. a short line such as I deem the paper [not] suitable for publication in [journal name].

Or is this more complicated and I should include such a statement only if I have a strong opinion for or against the paper I review and otherwise leave it up to the editor?

In my case there is no template or instructions for the review given by the editor/journal. The field, if it matters, could be mathematics or economics.

  • 3
    If you're lucky, you're using an online system that explicitly asks "accept as is," "accept with minor revision," "accept with major revision (re-review)," or "reject". If they don't ask this, providing one of these options yourself makes sense. The key question is, would you want to see it again, and would you be willing to? Some who recommend "reject" have no interest whatsoever in re-reviewing even if the editor comes back with "major revision". May 3, 2017 at 21:23
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    The editor makes the final decision how to proceed with the paper, not the reviewer. You can certainly make a recommendation to the editor, but if you included it in the review itself, the authors may end up getting conflicting information from the editor and the reviewer, unless the editor deletes your personal opinion from the review before sending it to the authors.
    – alephzero
    May 3, 2017 at 21:53
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    @alephzero: It's not conflicting information; the referee(s) make recommendations to the editor(s), and the editor makes a final decision that will ideally take the referees' recommendations explicitly into account. The editor's decision doesn't have to be the same as the referees, but if it isn't it, the author(s) deserve some explanation of the variance. Nor is this a "personal opinion"; it is a "professional opinion." Finally, as a referee I certainly don't expect parts of my report to be deleted by the editors without consulting me. If I found about that, I would not be happy. May 4, 2017 at 5:33
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    Also, you were asked to submit your review via email. Is this normal? Possibly a red flag about the journal? I've asked a separate question on this. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/88974/… May 4, 2017 at 7:45
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    @emory: The referee's report contains the referee's evaluation of the paper, their recommendation on the paper, and material linking the two. Traditionally it has gone to both the editors and the authors, whereas comments specifically to the editor were sent separately in correspondence to the editor. Nowadays everything is getting increasingly automated and there is often room for "confidential remarks to the editor." The referee usually wouldn't know if parts of the report got deleted. May 4, 2017 at 20:01

4 Answers 4


Remember that the final decision is always up to the editor regardless of your recommendation. And (hopefully) the editor reads your entire review, not just the recommendation.

I usually include a recommendation in my reviews, but I always try to justify it thoroughly, so that the recommendation itself is essentially a redundant summary of what I have already said. If I do not have a strong opinion either way, I will say so.


I am in a different field, but what I usually do is start off with a brief summary of what the paper is about, within this, I would include a sentence something along the lines of:

... Therefore, it is recommended that the manuscript is within scope, hence suitable for publication in [publication]

(or the negative, if necessary). This is a clear and direct statement of recommendation. Similar can be written if you do not have a strong opinion, such as:

The manuscript appears within scope and could be suitable for publication.

Then the following sentence, leading into your actual review:

However, there are a number of issues that need to be resolved before it is published.

  • This is a nice example of how to place this recommendation. Do you think, though it is a necessary part of the review? In my case I likely don't have a strong opinion, by the time I finish the review.
    – mts
    May 3, 2017 at 21:22
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    In that case, you could modify the first sentence to read The manuscript is within scope and could be suitable for publication
    – user70612
    May 3, 2017 at 21:25
  • I find your last comment (as your whole answer) very helpful, you might want to add it to the answer itself? (+1 of course)
    – mts
    May 3, 2017 at 21:52
  • @mts no problem, added the statement in
    – user70612
    May 3, 2017 at 21:58
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    If you don't have a strong opinion about the recommendation, don't make one unless explicitly asked to do so. Just leave your summary of the paper, the big picture things you liked or had an issue with, and detailed comments, as is. Let them stand on their own. May 4, 2017 at 7:48

I'm in the social and health sciences, so I'm not sure how different this would be for your discipline. The easiest ways to make a recommendation that won't go directly to he authors is to select "accept," "major revision" and so on if there is an online system, like Fred indicates above. Some online systems also have separate response sections for the editor and authors, where the authors won't have access to your comments you make just to the editor.

If you need to write your recommendation directly to the authors, there are a number of ways to phrase this. For example, "In its current state, this manuscript is not ready for publication, though here are some ways it could be improved..." Or (more enthusiastically), "This paper addresses a very important issue and I have offered some suggestions to prepare it for publication." Hence, you can say something is not ready to be accepted without fully rejecting it, which is the role of the editor anyway. However, if you read something that doesn't seem salvageable, you can also say, "This manuscript does not appear appropriate for journal XYZ and here are the reasons why..."

Hope this helps! I don't know if there are more common things to say in mathematics or economics.

  • +1 and helpful answer, however in my case there are no boxes to tick or type of revisions to select, I'll be sending an email with an attached pdf to the editor and that is it.
    – mts
    May 4, 2017 at 5:30
  • If there are no boxes and the review is handled by email, treat the email itself as the place to make confidential comments to the reviewer. I'd suggest placing the recommendation there rather than in the comments to the authors. May 4, 2017 at 9:33
  • Thanks! Yes, if there are no boxes, I would suggest crafting a professional response using some of the language (or a variation of) my suggestion above. I write things like that all of the time when I am a peer reviewer. May 4, 2017 at 23:45

Short Answer: Provide your formal recommendation about acceptance to the editor and not in your comments to the author.

In my field, most publication systems include a multiple choice question where reviewers indicate their recommendation to the editor (e.g., reject, major revisions, minor revisions, accept, etc.).

I generally find that most reviewers do not include a recommendation in their review that goes out to the authors.

Instead, the explicit recommendation is usually made using the recommendation check box in the editorial system and may be combined with additional information supplied in the "comments to editor" box.

There a few reasons why a reviewer may not want to place their recommendation in the "comments to author" box.

  • It is the reviewers role to evaluate the quality and importance of the manuscript. The editor is responsible for the decision about what is suitable for the journal, all things considered.
  • By not putting a recommendation in the author comments box, the editor has a little more flexibility in how they frame the response to the authors. The editor can choose to share the reviewer recommendations about acceptance with the author or not. For example, the reviewers might both recommend major revisions, but the editor decides to reject. The author sees all the problems identified by the reviewers and may more readily accept the editor's decision.

Of course, the review that goes to the authors may be suggest what the reviewers recommend. Most reviews involve an initial paragraph that (a) summarises the reviewer's understanding of the manuscript, and (b) provides an overall synopsis of whether the topic is important, interesting, and suitable for the journal, and whether the paper is of acceptable quality. More detailed comments will also imply the degree to which the paper could readily be refined (i.e., suggestive of revisions) or has fundamental shortcomings (i.e., suggestive of rejection).

As an additional note, I generally try to keep any note to the editor quite short. I like the transparency of as much as possible of my review going to the authors.

  • +1 and helpful answer, however in my case there are no boxes to fill or type of revisions to select, I'll be sending an email with an attached pdf to the editor and that is it.
    – mts
    May 4, 2017 at 5:31
  • There is no "confidential comments for the editor box?" That is really strange. What if you wanted to disclose a conflict or something that would reveal your identity to the authors but for which the editor really needs to know? I know several biology editors who get very annoyed when you make a recommendation in your comments to the authors May 4, 2017 at 7:24
  • no worries. Your question is mostly phrased in a general way, so I've endeavoured to answer the general question. May 5, 2017 at 0:19

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