7

I worked on a research project earlier this year with a group of people. The paper has been written up (not by me) and sent to the team to review it, give feedback and approve it before it is submitted for publication. I am just an undergraduate student and this is my very first experience with this. Most other people on the research team are much older and more experienced than me; so I do not have any critical feedback to give. The paper seems great to me.

Anyways, I am wondering how to state my approval when I email the PI? Replying with “I approve of this paper” seems too entitled for me since I am so inexperienced. So what would be the best way to reply back with my approval?

  • 1
    I think experienced people know what you can contribute. Just look over your parts, double check them and say, your parts are good to go, or X,Y... need to be done. You may want to check whether other parts of the paper have a link to your part. For example, if you did the experiments, the abstract or intro may not highlight your results or claims are not supported by your results. – Prof. Santa Claus May 25 '17 at 5:01
  • You can always check the grammar. There are always commas missing, and fixing them you can contribute positively to the paper. – Davidmh May 27 '17 at 7:20
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A reply such as "Thank you for the opportunity to review this; I see no changes that need to be made." is appropriate. This confirms that you

  1. Read the paper and
  2. Are in agreement with the content and presentation.

As a participant in the work and especially if you're listed as a co-author, point 2 is important. However, point 1 lets the organizer know that you've completed your task so that they needn't wait any longer on your feedback.

An additional thought:

Most other people on the research team are much older and more experienced than me; so I do not have any critical feedback to give.

Don't let age or experience of other team members influence how you perform your review.

You have every right (really, a responsibility) to raise any issue you identify so that it can be addressed. Furthermore, I've often found that less-experienced team members tend to make very rigorous reviews of all the details, often catching details that others miss. Take this as an opportunity to dive into the work and learn the intricacies of it (especially the parts you weren't involved with). This will allow you to gain understanding of the field and allow you to more effectively perform another type of review: that of the overall nature of the work and the cohesiveness of how it's presented.

Also, as you perform the review, you should bring questions to your team members. They understand you have little experience (you're an undergraduate, that's expected). However, displaying interest in the work and gaining knowledge in the field is a good thing.

  • I am slightly at odds with “Thank you for the opportunity to review this” as it would be unethical (or even misconduct) not to have every author review a paper before submission. – Wrzlprmft May 25 '17 at 5:05
  • It's not clear if OP is a co-author or just someone who participated in the work. I agree: everyone on the team should be given the chance to review the publication and pleasantries shouldn't be needed regardless of role. However, the 'thank you' also alleviates some curtness in the response if it was otherwise omitted. – Joel Kulesza May 25 '17 at 5:09
  • @Joel Although I didn't write any of the paper, I am listed as a co-author. So I participated in the work and my name is listed as an author on the paper. – aspire94 May 25 '17 at 5:21
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    @aspire94 Thanks for clarifying, it might help to note that in your question. The use of 'please' and 'thank you' in email correspondence is my personal style but a response such as "I've reviewed the paper and see no changes that need to be made." is perfectly acceptable. The main point of my answer is to clearly communicate the two points I listed. – Joel Kulesza May 25 '17 at 5:25
  • @aspire94, +1 to Joel for pointing out that it is still very useful for less experienced eyes (who haven't been glazing over) to read the paper. It is quite possible that you'll notice something that might be unclear to a general reader, (or an obvious typo) but that the authors did not notice because they are too familiar with the prose. – Carol May 25 '17 at 16:53
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TL;DR: If you do not find anything to criticise on a paper, strongly consider the possibility that you were too coy.

If I give a paper of mine to a bachelor student for internal review and they do not have anything to criticise, I assume that they did not thoroughly read it, underestimated their concerns, or are afraid of criticising senior collaborators. This particularly holds if they are a co-author. (And this also applies to peer reviewers by the way.)

Every paper that has not already received feedback by thousands of people will be imperfect. It does not necessarily have to contain hard mistakes, but there almost certainly are parts that can be misunderstood and explained better – not to mention spelling or grammar flukes. The challenging part of writing a paper is not to correctly write down your results; almost everybody¹ can do that. The challenging part is to explain your rationales, methods, and conclusions to readers that may not be extremely familiar with all the details of your research.

Therefore taking this reader’s point of view is essential for good paper writing. However this gets increasingly difficult if you are very familiar with a subject, such as your own research. Therefore somebody like you is probably a better proxy for the paper’s intended audience and a better person to provide feedback on the paper. This does not only apply to subject expertise but also to language: I often write sentences that I consider to be to the point and easy to understand, just to find out that my internal reviewers had to read them three times to understand them – which means that another reader may not understand them at all and they need to be fixed.

If your seniors are wise, they are aware of this and will take any criticism coming from you seriously, not only regarding the paper’s didactics but also regarding possible mistakes: If anything seems fishy to you, it may also seem fishy to reviewers and the paper may need to be improved, be it by fixing an actual mistake or by better explaining why there is actually no mistake. Also, consider that your seniors may judge you like I did if you do not provide any criticism whatsoever. You may even waste their time as they may feel the need to consider another internal reviewer due to your lack of criticism.

Therefore I strongly suggest that you carefully read the entire paper again and be as nitpicky as you can, in particular with respect to easy understandability, consistent notation, spelling, and grammar. You will almost certainly find something.


¹ who is capable of obtaining publishable results

  • Beginners are often already nervous about "doing it wrong." It's fine to advise OP to read with a critical eye. But you can make this point without exacerbating the anxiety a beginner may already have. I think this answer would be strengthened by taking out the first sentence. – aparente001 May 27 '17 at 1:23
  • @aparente001: Fair point, let me rephrase this. – Wrzlprmft May 27 '17 at 7:50
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    Hey there, Wrzlprmft -- the first sentence doesn't hit me between the eyes any more, but it still makes me too uncomfortable to be able to upvote the otherwise strong answer. I don't want to keep arguing, but I did want to acknowledge the improvement, and let you know my honest reaction. Anxiety is very real, when it occurs, and in that case, nothing is gained by making it worse. I can see that your way of seeing this question is a simple if no defects or errors detected, then student not trying hard enough or not being honest. But I don't think that criticizing the student will... – aparente001 May 27 '17 at 20:31
  • ... help him or her notice more things in the paper that could be improved. – aparente001 May 27 '17 at 20:31
  • @aparente001: I can see that your way of seeing this question is a simple if no defects or errors detected, then student not trying hard enough or not being honest – Yes, but the lack of honesty comes from good intentions. Anyway, let me add a third option to this (see my edit). — Where do you think I am criticising the student in a way that fuels anxiety. Saying that they are probably too coy is only one step short of saying you are being too anxious. – Wrzlprmft May 27 '17 at 21:44
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If you've checked the paper to the best of your ability, particularly those parts with which you were closely involved, and you have no criticisms or concerns, then just say so. There isn't any special wording to use - just be clear that you consent to submitting the paper in its current form (it would be unethical for them to submit without your consent).

For instance, you could say:

I read through the paper and it looks good to me. I think it is fine to submit. Thanks everybody!

Just don't delay - it sounds like you've made your decision that the paper is okay, and your co-authors will be very frustrated if the submission of the paper is held up while you agonize over how to draft your email.

0

You are required to read an approve the final version of a manuscript to be included as an author. This is common practice. It is recommended criteria for authorship by many journals and the Vancouver convention.

You should at least check the sections based on your work and make sure that you agree with how they are communicated and the overall message of the paper (abstract and conclusions). All you need to do is confirm that you have read it and approve of the current version.

However, some specific comments will make it clearer that you've actually read the manuscript. It is not uncommon in our research group for students to suggest changes or even take a role in writing or submitting manuscripts themselves. This is a crucial part of research and you are being trained as a researcher.

Do not hesistate to suggest revisions or point out mistakes. Believe it or not supervisors still make them and need proofreading assistance too. Of course do so in a polite manner, it is likely an honest mistake or ambiguity given how pressed for time most academics are. They'd rather have it raised now than once it's gone to review or to press.

0

Read it with a critical eye, don't assume that as a beginner your contribution isn't valuable, and send a brief message to give it a thumbs up; a quick turn-around will earn you brownie points.

All that's been said here already. But I wanted to add:

In your thumbs-up email, mention at least one thing that you really like about how it turned out. This positive feedback will be most effective if it's honest and personal.

For example, I especially liked the section about possible applications of the technique. I wasn't involved in that part of the paper, but it helped me appreciate the big picture better. (That's just an example. It could be anything, really, as long as its from the heart.)

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