1. Originality – does the paper make you think differently or does it just rehash familiar arguments. Does it have new data that adds to or challenges previous findings? Is it interesting? Do you think other readers will be interested, engaged or bored? Does the paper capture your attention and make you want to read/find out more?
If a paper has no page numbers, lots of typos, spelling, bibliography and grammar mistakes – return it straight away to be corrected by the author. It is not your job to do this.
2. The writer’s grasp of relevant literature – often we receive papers from people who are not familiar with the debates in their field. You will have been sent the paper because you are considered to have considerable knowledge of the field. If you notice gaps please do point them out. If the gaps are considerable and it will take you a great deal of time to compile a reading list, just state that there is a substantial literature deficiency and propose a direct reject. If there are absolutely central debates that the author does not consider but there is still potential in the paper, insist that they be included as a major revision (to be checked before publication).
3. This connects to our criteria for ‘potential value as a contribution to knowledge and/or to relevant debates within sociology’ (and its directly related fields, such as anthropology and STS). Is the paper sufficiently sociological? We receive many papers from people who are unaware of the debates within sociology journals, even unaware of the debates in the journal to which they are submitting, which is a case for a direct reject as this displays a lack of scholarly research and engagement with the field. But again, you need to be aware of a ‘rehash’. We are not interested in publishing the same old story with a slightly different position. We want you to suggest acceptance of papers that contribute to our knowledge in some substantive way (data, theory, challenge).
4. One of the most regular problems we have with papers is structure. Can you identify a coherent argument? Is there clarity to the way the ideas are expressed. If you have any difficulties following the argument this is usually the fault of the paper. Does the conclusion fit the findings? Does the theory used fit the empirical work? Are quotes just used as evidence and not developed? Do the different theories used fit together? Sometimes we receive papers where two diametrically opposed theories will be squashed together.
Trust your instincts. If the paper makes no sense, that is usually a problem of not enough crafting, thinking, preparation. We receive a lot of under-cooked submissions which need more reading, structure, crafting and checking.
We ask referees to indicate which of the following categories you think the article best fits:
- accept for publication as it stands
- accept for publication with minor revisions
- ask author to undertake major revisions and then resubmit
- reject outright
- article is publishable but not in The Sociological Review (please give an alternative journal if possible)
- major revisions/rewrite and submit as first submission
If you think a paper needs major revisions do also ask yourself whether you think the author of the paper is capable of making these revisions. If the paper is theoretically weak (cannot use and apply the theories it uses) it may not be possible for it to be revised. We do ask referees who have asked for major revisions to check the resubmission to see if these have been made. If you think this will not be possible (as above or the data is not substantive, or the writing is a mess) choose reject over resubmission. It will save your time and that of the author.