Ask the grumpies: Can I really recommend accept with minor revisions in the first round?

Lucy asks:

I am trying to write a referee report on a paper and other than things I know are minutiae I have no comments!  Other than not showing anything causal (which the authors readily admit and isn’t really necessary for their question), I have no major criticism of anything they have done. The outlet is probably appropriate. So…do I seriously recommend publish as-is? Have you ever done that? It seems like such a cop out.

I think I have recommended some things be published with only minor revisions.  I know I’ve typed out under the Major section:  “I have no major concerns.”  And as an editor I’ve definitely gotten people making that recommendation, “Accept with only minor revisions”, even in the first round.  I just did one, in fact, that came back with “accept with minor revisions” from two reviewers in the first round.  And then I read it and was like, yeah, they should cut out that one section and see a copy-editor, but this is definitely an accept with minor revisions.

What you need to do so that the editor believes you (IMHO on the receiving end of these reports) is to explain in the cover letter why you think it doesn’t need revising.  So you say what you told me.  It exhaustively documents info, it doesn’t show anything causal but the authors are upfront about that and you don’t think it is necessary for them to show causation given the topic, the outlet is appropriate, etc.  The authors should be commended, etc.

It’s not enough to say, “accept with minor revisions” because then I’m all… should I trust you, or are you just lazy?  But if you can say why the paper is interesting and important/appropriate and anticipate problems that you don’t think are problems, then your letter is really helpful when I have to compare it to someone who, say, believes the paper should be rejected because it isn’t causal.  I had a situation like that once with two extremely enthusiastic reviewers and two who wanted to reject the paper outright and one of the rejects and one of the minor revisions were useless because they didn’t tell me anything useful.  If the second accept with minor revisions had told me why to accept, then the decision would have been a lot easier for me.  (Or if the other reject had said something other than, “this paper doesn’t cite [my papers]” even though it cited a literature review that contained said papers.)

9 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Can I really recommend accept with minor revisions in the first round?”

  1. undine Says:

    Not often, but I’ve recommended “accept with minor revisions” more than once. Sometimes you end up saying why the paper is awesome and then there’s not much to add beyond that.

  2. xykademiqz Says:

    It’s definitely possible and not uncommon to accept a paper with minor or no revisions, but as N&M say, you have to justify why, otherwise the report is kind of useless against other grumpy reviewers. I would summarize in a sentence or two what the paper is about (always a good idea to start the report with a summary), then what you wrote above, that the findings are timely and important and if possible why you think that, that it is clearly written, that it is suitable for the publication venue and why, and that there is something that could be potentially viewed as a flaw but that it isn’t and that the paper is fine without it.

  3. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Good post and previous comments. Only thing I would add is that my practice is to never provide confidential comments to the editor, and to include all the supporting arguments in the comments to authors.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      As an editor, I disagree with this.

      The confidential comments should be a brief summary of the major points of the comments to the authors that you want emphasized. They should also include justification for the reject/R&R decision (which according to many journal instructions should not be included in feedback to the authors), whether or not you’d be willing to review a resubmit, etc.

      The comments to the authors should be much longer and include things that make the paper better but don’t necessarily bear on the decision of reject vs. R&R.

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        For once I agree with Comradde PhysioProffe. I never say anything to the editor that I don’t say to the authors. OK, if I want to refuse to ever see the paper again, I might say that privately to the editors—or if I never want to review for the journal again. But anything about the paper should be said to the authors, with the editors just listening in.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The letter to the reviewers should be longer than the one to the editor. The letter to the editor should be a short summary of the most salient points from the review that lead to your decision or are most important for the R&R. Editors are busy people and don’t need to wade through your five pages of comments to help the authors improve when the only important thing is that they state correlation is causation.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        As an editor, I disagree with your disagreement.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    nicoleandmaggie wrote ” Editors are busy people and don’t need to wade through your five pages of comments to help the authors improve when the only important thing is that they state correlation is causation.” If the editors don’t have time to read a review from me, then they shouldn’t request one.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s ridiculous. If you’re not recommending R&R then I don’t need to know that the authors misspelled some author’s name in footnote 17. The authors, however, may be grateful for that information.

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