Peer Review Guidelines

The Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning has put together the following guidelines to help prepare reviewers to provide feedback on the specific sorts of manuscripts they may be asked to read through MJCSL and to get the most out of their experience reviewing for MJCSL.

When reading the manuscript...

  1. Read the manuscript twice: once to gather general content and again to capture detail and critique. It may also be useful to read through the peer review questions in between readings of the manuscript in order to focus your inquiry.
  2. Try to overlook minor grammatical mistakes. The manuscript will be put through a round of professional copy editing if it is accepted for publication. Language or grammatical issues are grounds for rejection only if they affect the clarity of the content.
  3. Keep in mind that MJCSL has a wide, interdisciplinary audience. Note moments in which the author(s) limit the audience of the Journal by failing to explain field-specific jargon.
  4. Question whether the manuscript fits the criteria for publication in MJCSL. Does the manuscript represent a systematic inquiry that produces new knowledge or understanding and offers a clear intervention in the interdisciplinary field of community engagement?
  5. Make note of whether the research represents the ethos and values of the field. For guidance, you may refer to the goals of MJCSL.

When discussing the manuscript with your fellow reviewer...

  1. Introduce yourself to your fellow reviewer before beginning the conversation.
  2. Approach your fellow reviewer as a collaborator. Share time and energy within the discussion.
  3. Do not assume your fellow reviewer has knowledge specific to your discipline, as we frequently pair reviewers from different fields in order to offer varying perspectives on an article. Relatedly, ask questions if your fellow reviewer is using terminology or jargon that you do not understand. After all, such language may anticipate areas where discipline-specific terminology is getting in the way of the article's clarity to the journal's diverse readers.
  4. Keep an open mind when approaching the conversation. Be aware of the way in which your opinions may be informed by your personal discipline, identity, or experiential background.
  5. Be mindful of the way you present your initial opinion on the manuscript. It's best to avoid sharing your current individual recommendation until after you have discussed your answers to the synthesized review questions.

When writing your feedback...

  1. Focus on specific recommendations by which the author(s) may improve their work rather than general impressions. If you are going to raise a problem, offer a means to respond to it.
  2. Criticism should be delivered productively, with the intention of helping the author(s) move towards eventual publication or further refinement of their project.
  3. It is always helpful to restate what you believe to be the manuscript's intervention, even if you do not believe the intervention is significant or successful.
  4. Maintain a positive and supportive tone. Highlight strengths as well as weaknesses.

MJCSL Peer Review Questions:

The peer review form contains six question in total (3 to be answered individually and 3 to be answered after your conversation with your fellow reviewer). You will provide a ranking for each question (hardly, to some extent, mostly, very much so) as well as detailed comments. In the comments portion for each question, you may choose to address the following:

  1. Did the author(s) demonstrate clear goals?
    • • What was the main question addressed by the research?
    • • Was the intervention clearly articulated?
    • • Did the manuscript provide an adequate review of existing literature related to their topic? What should be included that wasn't?
  2. Did the author(s) demonstrate appropriate methods?
    • • Does the research use best practices for collecting and analyzing data?
    • • Does the research represent a systematic inquiry that demonstrates promise for answering the author's(s') initial question?
  3. Did the author(s) demonstrate effective presentation of ideas?
    • • Does the manuscript imagine an interdisciplinary audience, or is it burdened by field-specific jargon that may make it illegible to people outside of particular university settings?
    • • Is the paper well organized? Do the sections of the paper flow logically, or do they distract from the delivery of the content?
    • • Are the key terms of the manuscript clearly and consistently defined?
  4. Did the author(s) demonstrate compelling results?
    • • How important or interesting is the manuscript's intervention to the field?
    • • What do you believe the project offers scholars, teachers, or practitioners?
    • •How does the work build on, challenge, or illuminate existing scholarship?
  5. Did the author(s) demonstrate reflective analysis?
    • • Do their conclusions adequately follow from their evidence and arguments?
    • • Is there more to be said about their evidence? Could they take their analysis further to more fully answer the initial question posed?
  6. What further comments do you wish to share?
    • • What are you left wanting to know more about? Is there anything the manuscript didn't cover that you feel is important to address?
    • • How did your conversation with your fellow reviewer shape your recommendation?
    • • On what terms did you agree with your fellow reviewer? Disagree?
    • • What other issues did you discover in the manuscript that was not covered by the questions above? What other recommendations do you have for the author(s)?

For more general information about how to conduct a peer review, we recommend the following: