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Basic guidelines for referees

Referees are the heart of the scholarly publication process; without their careful and unpaid labors, authors would be deprived of independent evaluations and suggestions for improving their work and journals would find the task of presenting scholarly and innovative research nearly impossible. At the outset, the editorial team acknowledges our enormous debt to referees, past, current, and future. In moving to an online process for submission and review of manuscripts, the editors of Enterprise and Society will expand and systematize our relationships with referees.

What follows are a set of guidelines for Enterprise and Society referees in the Manuscript Central era now dawning.

1. Referees will be invited by email to assess a submission. The email will include an abstract of the article sent to E&S. At the bottom of the email invitation will be THREE reply URLs – Accept, Decline, Unavailable (i.e., traveling). Please click on one of these URLs to signal your response to the invitation. Please do NOT click "Reply" on your email system.

2. If you decline or note unavailability, you'll receive a confirming email, asking whether you can recommend alternate referees. You help in identifying likely referees will be much appreciated.

3. If you accept, you will be asked to visit the Manuscript Central site to download the manuscript as a PDF file. The first time you make this visit, you will also be asked to confirm your email and provide regular mailing addresses, institution, etc. for our records.

4. The period provided for filing your evaluative report is 60 days. Quicker is better, of course, as we hope to eliminate the occasional long delays some E&S authors have faced in earlier years. About a week before your report deadline, you will receive a reminder note from the journal. If you need an modest extension, email the Editor ( However, when a report is 30 days overdue, we will withdraw our invitation and assign the manuscript to another scholar for evaluation.

5. Please prepare your report in two parts, then cut and paste them onto the Referee's Report page at Manuscript Central. The first part should present your comments and suggestions to the author. The second part should consist of your recommendations to the Editor regarding revisions and publication, which should reflect your comments to the author.

We will share with authors the first section of your report, but your recommendation regarding publication and the basic rationale(s) for it will remain confidential. Journals dividing the tasks this way report that referees appear to be more helpful on the first count to authors and more frank on the second count to editors. Kenneth Parkes offered this valuable overview in an essay on refereeing some years ago:

"If the review is unfavorable, then the reasons for this opinion need to be spelled out in detail. If the author has overlooked important literature, don't just say that, give the references. If the manuscript is wordy or redundant, the report is really helpful only if the reviewer suggests specific places where the manuscript could be shortened without loss of meaning. In short, an author will have difficulty fixing a problem that isn't clearly defined… Wishy-washy reviews do nothing but make the editor's job difficult. As a general rule, a reviewer's comments to the author should not pass judgment on whether the manuscript should be accepted or rejected… However, if you recommend rejection in your confidential report to the editor, you must clearly identify the manuscript's problems in your comments to the author." ["On the Role of the Referee," The Auk 115(1998):1079-80.]

6. Referees should definitely note stylistic problems with an author's writing, but should not undertake the tasks of detailed copy-editing. Do note, though, if your author overuses passive voice or drab verbs, et al. Also, we would appreciate you calling attention to errors which a copy-editor might not detect (misspellings of site names, incorrect terminology, errors in dates, etc.).

Equally, if the essay's organization needs rethinking, both authors and editors would be grateful for suggestions that would improve the flow of evidence and argument. Sometimes, after months or years working on a project, authors cannot perceive inconsistent arguments, nor can they identify more compelling ways to make their case. Editors and authors alike are grateful to referees who take the time to reframe arguments. Just as valuable are comments that strengthen connections between an author's narrative and the body of literature s/he is revising and extending.

7. What are referees looking for? We are seeking to identify publishable papers, essays that make a substantial and sufficient contribution to the discipline. Let me elaborate by drawing on Alan Jay Smith's fine and much-cited discussion, "The Task of the Referee."

"A contribution can be new and interesting research results, a new and insightful synthesis of existing results, a useful survey… of a field, or a combination of those types. To quote a referee for this article itself: 'small results which are surprising and might spark new research should be published; papers which are mostly repetitions [and confirmations] of other papers should not; papers which have good ideas badly expressed should not be published but the authors should be encouraged to rewrite them in a better, more comprehensible fashion. The role of the referee is to provide an opinion as to whether the paper makes such a contribution." (Computer 23(1990):65-71, quote from 65.)

An ideal referee's report might summarize the paper's key point(s) and contribution in a few sentences, then assess the significance and quality of the work at hand, providing both commendations and critiques, as appropriate. Issues available for broad-gauged or specific (page/line) commentary include, among others, conceptualization, assumptions, research base, connections to existing literatures/debates, and likely interest to the journal's readership.

7. Specific questions to consider:

– Is the presentation new, accurate factually (so far as you can tell) and of international interest?

– Overall is the paper appropriate to Enterprise and Society's scope, in terms of theme, quality and originality?

– Does the essay present the relevant documentation for its claims? Conversely, are there evidentiary materials that have been overlooked? Do references to the literature signal an appropriate level of subject area understanding?

– Are the title and abstract appropriate and effective?

– Does the author make clear the work's objectives and does s/he ably achieve them?

– Are the interpretations and conclusions sound and well-supported?

– Does the study both have and note implications for future research concerning and/or enriched understanding of its thematic area?

8. Referees should understand that the Editor will only send out submissions that are complete and have at least a reasonable chance of publication. Incoming materials that are out of scope, a historical, or of poor quality will be returned to authors without refereeing. We expect to ask colleagues to referee submissions no more than three times in a calendar year. If you are going on research leave, or for other reasons, would like to suspend reviewing articles for a semester or a year, please email the Editor and we will take care not to present you with invitations for the period requested.


This journal uses a double-blind model of peer review. Introductory resources for peer reviewers can be found on Cambridge Core here.


Guidance on ethical peer review can be found on Cambridge Core here.