Thank you very much for undertaking this review for the Bulletin. This guideline has been prepared by an experienced science editor to take you through the steps of doing a review. It also provides samples of reviews for you to consider.
The purpose of a review is to help the Editor decide whether to publish the paper or not and whether to ask the author to revise it and also to help the author improve their paper for publication in this or another journal.
The unpublished manuscript is a privileged confidential communication. Do not copy or distribute any part of it, or use it for teaching or discussion with your colleagues. Do not ask someone else to review it for you without clearing this with the Editor first. Do not contact the author about the paper; rather direct questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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How to present your review
A template has been developed to assist reviewers in compiling their comments to authors and to the Editor. The template is divided into two separate sections, the first section is for comments to authors and the second section provides advice to the Editor on whether the paper is publishable. The Editor will send an electronic copy of the template to you. The Referee Report Form should be returned to the Bulletin as an attachment by email addressed to the Editor.
There are two reasons for keeping comments for the author separate from advice to the Editor. One is that the Editor, taking into account the other referees´ comments, might come to a different conclusion about the article to you. It is then difficult for the Editor to send a ´reject´ decision if the attached review recommends publication - indeed authors sometimes use this apparent support as grounds on which to engage in an argument with the Editor´s decision. On the other hand the author may be confused at receiving an acceptance from the Editor accompanied by a review recommending rejection.
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Checklist of questions to ask about the paperyou have a conflict of interest (you realise that you were involved in the work being reported, or are closely involved with any of the authors). the approach is in a discipline in which you lack expertise. For example, you agreed to review a paper on ´effects of tobacco smoking´ and find that it is in fact on the effectiveness of health promotion interventions, and you are a respiratory physician. you find that you will not have time to do the review by the due date. We prefer to know this early rather than after you have missed the deadline.
Am I the right person to review this paper?
You should inform the Editor that you cannot review the paper if:
Is the topic a significant public health issue?
Will it interest people working in public health?
The paper, section by section Does the title describe what the article is about? Would an international reader coming across the abstract on Medline understand it?
Is the Title informative?
Does the Abstract give a clear summary of the paper´s primary concerns?Read the abstract after you have read the paper. For an article reporting on a study, the abstract should include a clear summary of the reason for the study, the place and time it was carried out, the study type, the population or study subjects and the method of data collection and analysis. A sentence or two should cover the main findings and conclusion.
Does the Introduction summarise what is already known on this topic and tell the reader why this study needed to be done? Is the question that the work seeks to answer clearly stated?
Are all the Methods outlined in the methods section?Place and time of study (e.g. Lismore, NSW, April-November 2005) Study type (e.g. randomised double-blind crossover study, or content analysis of health promotion leaflets) Sample, population or study subjects (who or what they were and how many of them) How the data were collected and recorded How the data were analysed, i.e. what measures, tests and models were used.
The basic principle underlying the presentation of methods is that another researcher should be able to repeat the study on the basis of the information given. Check that the following are included:
Does the Results section set out the findings clearly?The tables should give information that is consistent with the text but does not merely duplicate it.
Do the Results look plausible?Given your experience of the field, does anything just look wrong? For example, a 99% response rate for a ´voluntary´ survey. It may nonetheless be correct, but the authors should be very clear about how and why they got such an unusual result.
Does the Discussion summarise the implications of the findings and consider obvious problems with the methods or findings?
Are the References appropriate and carefully cited?References to support claims of scientific fact should be readily accessible and authoritative (in the peer-reviewed literature or from recognised bodies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the World Health Organization). Unpublished work and personal communications are not acceptable as support for claims of fact. Check that the authors have not ignored a major source of relevant information, or misrepresented the findings of any studies you are familiar with.
PresentationUnless the Editor advises otherwise, Bulletin papers should usually be about 1500-2000 words long, focussed on a single question. If you suggest that more information is needed about methods, or a longer discussion, remember also to suggest where cuts can be made. Is the writing repetitive? Are some of the tables unnecessary or too big? Has the author attempted to cover too much ground? Or would the paper be better as a short report (e.g. an item for Communicable Diseases Reports)?
Is the paper too long?
Is the structure appropriate to the contents?For a paper that is not reporting an empirical study, the traditional Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion format may not be appropriate.
Could you follow the argument of the paper as a whole easily after one reading?If not, there is something wrong with the way the paper is written.
Is the text full of jargon and technical terms?The Bulletin is read and used by a range of public health workers including epidemiologists, clinicians, Aboriginal health workers, policy analysts, HIV/sexual health educators, mental health specialists, nurses, and journalists/media staff. Point out any jargon that would not be widely understood.
Is the text badly written, with grammatical errors and awkward confused sentences?It is helpful if your review points out difficulties in this area, perhaps with some examples, but you are not expected to suggest detailed corrections or rewrite sentences. If the writing is particularly bad, the authors will be asked to rewrite the paper, but if the errors are minor and occasional, they will be picked up during the copy editing process.
Could graphs or tables be improved?
Are the references in Vancouver style, in numerical order?Please point out any errors in journal title abbreviations, spelling of author names etc. (see Instructions for Authors).
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Common faults to look out forLong wordy essays around the topic-these are not appropriate for the Bulletin. Political polemics in favour of a single point of view. Repetition of material in different sections of the paper.
MethodsInappropriate methodology (a study interviewing doctors cannot tell you much about patient satisfaction; causal questions cannot be answered by descriptive studies). Failure to describe methods of analysis.
ResultsResults presented are based on data or analysis not mentioned in the Methods section. Tables don´t add up. If there are 57 respondents, it is impossible for 53.8% to say ´yes´ to a question unless some didn´t answer-if possible, add up the tables and calculate percentages. Statements in the text that don´t match the numbers in the tables. Spurious accuracy. If the 95% confidence interval for an estimate is 3.4 to 8.7, and the detailed findings are in a table, there is no need to report findings in the text to two decimal places-whole numbers will do. Words in the text don´t match figures. If the text says that an exposure lowered the likelihood of some outcome, the OR or RR for the outcome should be <1.0. If the text says ´almost all´ respondents did something, this should mean more than 95%. Tables full of data that is no use as information for the reader. Do Bulletin readers really need to know all the percentages in answer to every question in a survey, or would the summarised measures after factor analysis or model-building be more use? (Detailed findings can be shown on the authors´ website.) Tables or figures reporting data from other sources, without attribution.
Discussion and conclusionDoes it look as though the authors had decided the answer before they did the study? Are they trying to explain away inconvenient or unwelcome results? Do they try to claim that non-significant findings still prove something? Do they generalise too widely, i.e. assume that what holds true for Liverpool holds true for the rest of the world? (This might be the case in biology or pharmacology, but not for a social or health promotion finding.)
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How to be a helpful referee
Try to deliver your report on time, but if things get on top of you and you´re not going to meet the deadline, please let us know before the due date.
Tell us clearly if the paper reports:a good piece of work that is badly written (this can be fixed by rewriting). valuable data that has been inappropriately analysed (the authors can reanalyse the data). a badly designed study (it may be fatally flawed, and unfixable). a badly conceived or executed intervention (the Bulletin seeks to publish Best Practice examples).
Try to distinguish between a badly done study and a well-executed one whose results you don´t like.
Don´t write a review about the paper you would have written instead.This does not help the authors fix their paper. Nor does it tell the Editor whether it is a useful piece of work in its own right. Does the work succeed on its own terms? If you have serious concerns that the whole paper is barking up the wrong tree, email the issue´s guest editor or the Editor and check what the intended purpose of the paper is. It may be that you are not the best referee for it (see ´Am I the right person to review this paper?´) On the other hand, you may be the one who spots that an entirely wrong approach has been used to address a public health question.
Try to help the authors do better next time.Part of the Bulletin´s purpose is to contribute to the development of a well-trained and informed public health workforce. Rather than simply rejecting substandard writing, we aim to help public health workers to reach publishable quality. Any advice you can give that would help the authors improve their work is greatly appreciated.
There is no rule about how long your review should be, but helpful reviews are usually about half a page to two pages.
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See the sample reviews
See the sample reviews here.
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Referee Report Form
A template has been developed to assist reviewers in compiling their comments to authors and to the Editor. The template is divided into two separate sections, the first section is for comments to authors and the second section provides advice to the Editor on whether the paper is publishable.
The Editor will send an electronic copy of the template to referees when writing a review.
The Referee Report Form should be sent as an email attachment to the Editor.
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