How To Write a Referee Comment

PTP is a leading international journal with a rigorous peer review process. All papers published in PTP must make an original contribution to the international literature, with an emphasis on encouraging more effective, two-way communication between theory and practice.

When first reading a paper, consider your several purposes:

  • To ask if academic paper makes an original contribution;
  • To ask if the paper meets academic standards of method, argument, legibility and coherence.
  • To provide constructive, helpful feedback to a paper’s author to improve their work
  • To identify important literature or research the author might have missed so that they can position their work appropriately within the field of existing knowledge
  • To ensure that the publication process is fair, based on debateable reasons not personal idiosyncrasy, and transparent, based on specified, clear reasons.

At Planning Theory and Practice, we believe that refereeing should be a supportive part of the publication process.

When writing your report, you might want to consider some of the following questions:

a.      Structure

Is there a clear statement, preferably on page one, of the research problem to be tackled?  Is the paper’s subsequent argument clearly structured?  Does it flow nicely and make sense, or does it seem confused and convoluted?  Will other readers who aren’t experts in your area be able to follow the line of argument? 

b.      Clarity of expression

Does the author use language that only a few specialists can understand? Is the argument clear enough so that you know what a counterargument might be?   Are key terms defined adequately for a general audience of planning academics? 

c.       Context

Does the author situate the work clearly in terms of institutions, countries, and systems or does more information need to be provided? 

d.      Literature

Does the author acknowledge key literature in the field?  Have they shown a breadth of understanding or do they fail to cite important documents that prove/disprove their thesis?

e.      Evidence and methods

Is the evidence used appropriate or are there glaring (fatal or undermining) methodological problems with the study?  If the paper is quantitative, have statistics been run through appropriate tests? 

Research methodology

Is the research methodology adequately explained?  Do the methods employed answer the question, or are the claims made too great for the weight of the evidence? 

f.        Conclusions

Are the conclusions general enough to appeal to an audience of planning academics, or has the author failed to draw out the international or practical relevance of their findings?  Has the author demonstrated the implications of their research for planning theory and practice?

            g. Significance and contribution

When you finish the paper, do you feel that you’d like several friends or colleagues to read the paper? Or do you feel glad to be done with it, not sure what you’ve learned or why it matters? Can you suggest to the author what it would take to give you the feeling of wanting to share the paper with colleagues?