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Frequently asked questions

Why should I become a referee?

Refereeing is an important responsibility that comes with being part of the scientific community and it is expected that all active scientists will undertake refereeing duties from time to time. Acting as a referee not only helps you to stay up to date with the latest developments in your field but is also commonly recognized as a sign that you are progressing in your career. Scientists will often mention in their CV or resume that they have acted as referee for a journal.

Will I be paid to referee an article?

Usually not.

How much time will it take to assess a paper and write a report?

It depends on many factors including: the quality of the manuscript, your level of expertise, the subject and your own way of working. In some fields 2–3 hours would be enough; in other fields it could take 2-3 weeks. You should ask your colleagues how long they spend on a referee task.

Can I extend the deadline for submitting my report?

When you are first asked to referee a paper, the journal will usually suggest a deadline for submitting your report. If you find you cannot meet this deadline, contact the journal to request an extension or to decline.

Will the authors be told who has written the report(s)?

No, most peer-reviewed journals do not tell the authors who has written the reports. Preserving the anonymity of referees is felt to be very important.

If I am an expert in only part of the paper what should I do?

You can still write a report and send it to the journal but make it clear which parts you are not able to assess.

Representation of chemolocation, whereby a motile cell and targets interact by chemical signalling

Representation of chemolocation, whereby a motile cell and targets interact by chemical signalling Sarah A Nowak et al 2010 Physical Biology 7 026003.

Can I consult a colleague about a paper I have been asked to referee?

You may consult a colleague about a paper but always ask the journal if this is OK before doing it.

How long should my report be?

There is no set length for a report. It will depend on the manuscript you have been asked to assess. However, if it is less than half a page your report is probably not detailed enough.

If I think the paper is incremental, what should I do?

Tell the journal that you think it is incremental and provide a reference or references to support this.

What should I do if the authors refer to unpublished work?

It may be possible for the journal to obtain a copy for you from the authors. You should ask for this if you feel you cannot assess the work without it. However, authors should not make frequent references to unpublished work to support their paper.

Do I have to correct all spelling, grammar or use-of-English mistakes in a paper I have been asked to referee?

No. Referees are not usually asked to do this as journals have copy-editors who can correct minor problems with the language. However, if the paper is written so poorly that you cannot clearly understand what the authors mean, or there are so many errors that reading the paper becomes very difficult, then that should be reported back to the journal. Papers whose scientific meaning is unclear, or which have not been properly proof-read by the authors before submission, are usually sent back to the authors for revision.

Will I find out if the paper I refereed was rejected or accepted?

This depends on the journal. Some journals will routinely inform you of the final decision, but others do not. However, if you want to know what happened to a paper you refereed you can contact the journal and they will tell you.

Will I be able to see the reports from any other referees?

This depends on the journal policy. If you ask to see them, sometimes the journal may be able to send them to you. If an article requires a second round of refereeing after revision, you may be provided with any other referee reports so that you can assess carefully all the changes that have been made.

Where can I get more information?

This is a beginner’s guide to refereeing only and is based mainly on IOP journal processes. There are many other sources of information, including your supervisor and colleagues. You can find more information about peer review at the following websites:

Where this guide refers to third party websites and/or other third party sources of information, it is not intending to imply any direct link with those third parties, nor does IOP Publishing warrant, or accept responsibility for, the quality or availability of any information contained therein. Where accessing any third party websites, you should ensure that you read any legal information on those websites before making use of and/or relying on any information obtained from them.