The author(s) has spent dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours doing research and writing this paper. They have put their faith in the reviewing system – that’s you – and there is probably a lot riding on whether it gets published.
The job of reviewing is about deciding whether the paper is of sufficient quality to be published,. It does not need to be the most ground-breaking piece of research you’ve ever come across. You need to read the content as the research and writing that has been done by an anonymous 3rd party, not as if it’s the paper YOU would have written if you’d done this bit of research.
The author might be an inexperienced student, but they might be a professor with 30 years' experience. You don't know - that is the significance of a blind review! They will also never know who reviewed their paper - that is the advantage of a "double-blind" review. (Some people assume double-blind means the paper has been reviewed twice, but it is all about confidentiality and being able to assess the paper and give and honest review without fear.)
What should you look for?
You will always be provided with an outline of requirements, depending on the nature of the publication.
There are a few obvious problems:
- it’s a rant not a reasoned piece of argument
- it’s a piece of journalism or a blog - an opinion not based on research
- it’s been sent to the wrong journal or doesn't reflect the topic of the conference or publication
- it’s plagiarised
Possible reasons for rejection
- It’s straight from a thesis chapter – it’s a trawl of the literature, has far too much to say about methodology and/or theoretical resources, has no argument and no conclusion
- It’s bad research – the quants are wrong, the interpretation of the qual data is dodgy, you can drive a truck through the claims made
- There is no analysis – it’s a plodding report of a survey or a set of interviews and nothing else
- It’s unethical – people may be harmed if this is published, it’s sexist/racist/homophobic/ableist
- It’s got too many ideas in it – you can’t follow what is being said at all, there isn’t enough space devoted to each part of the argument, the various bits don’t seem to relate to one another
- The argument doesn’t make sense – you can’t follow what is being said at all, there isn’t enough space devoted to each part of the argument, the various bits don’t seem to relate to one another
- It’s not significant. For example it’s too local, too small in scope to say anything. It’s narcissistic and self-indulgent. The conclusion is already well known or despite flowery or verbose language it doesn’t seem to say anything much at all.
Invalid reasons for outright rejection
- it’s written in a style we don’t like
- it uses big words
- it uses simple, plain language or has grammar or spelling mistakes
- we disagree with its party politics or conclusion
- it's boring
All these can be raised as objections within a reasoned argument. Grammar, spelling and formatting errors will require revision.