Guidelines for Reviewing Manuscripts

December 2009

Thank you for agreeing to review a manuscript for the Journal of Family Psychology® (JFP). We hope you will find the following guidelines helpful as you prepare timely and informative reviews for manuscripts submitted to JFP. The peer review process is a collaboration between the peer reviewers and the Action Editor and these guidelines are intended to enhance that collaborative process.

Please remember, the expectation is that reviews will be completed within 30 dates of their request. This will help to ensure that our turn-around time is no longer than 45 days. We believe that a rapid turn-around time is respectful of our authors and we know that it is most appreciated.

Peer reviewers have two key functions or roles:

  • gatekeeper – making a publication recommendation to the Action Editor as to whether or not the manuscript should be accepted, rejected, or returned to the authors with an invitation to revise and resubmit
  • consultant – offering a thorough and educative written critique that will be both sent to the author and that the Action Editor will incorporate along with input from other reviewers into a final action letter to the author

In your role as gatekeeper, you are asked to offer your opinion regarding whether or not this manuscript should eventually be published in JFP, thereby becoming part of the permanent body of scientific literature that will influence JFP's future readers.

In your consultant role, please offer detailed (with sufficient specificity), thorough, thoughtful, informative, and most importantly, respectful and balanced commentaries that aim to enhance the overall quality of empirical investigation in family psychology.

Given the fundamental tension between these two roles, many reviewers read each paper with "two sets of eyes," the first set focusing on their recommendation regarding the potential publishability of the paper and the second set gathering information that will inform their written feedback statements.

In conducting your review, please remember that the manuscript you have been invited to review is a privileged (confidential) communication. As outlined in section 8.06 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition), an unpublished manuscript is entitled to copyright protection from the moment it is fixed in tangible form – for example, typed on a page. Further, "…the author owns the copyright on an unpublished manuscript, and all exclusive rights due the owner of the copyright of a published work are also due the author of an unpublished work." Therefore, you may not circulate, discuss, quote, cite, or refer to the unpublished work, nor may you use information from the manuscript to advance your own work or instruction.

Manuscripts may not be given to students for educational purposes. You must request permission in advance from the Action Editor to share the manuscript with any other person, for example, if you wish to seek assistance from a colleague or student in preparing your review (See Collaborative Review Model Policy).

Although JFP uses a masked review process, if you suspect that one of the manuscript's authors is a person whose relationship to you might present a conflict of interest, for example (but not limited to), a recent collaborator, faculty colleague in your department, or current or former student; if you think it make be challenging for you to render a balanced or fair judgment; or if the acceptance or rejection of this manuscript might result in your own financial gain, you must inform the Action Editor immediately so that the manuscript can be promptly reassigned. If you are not certain if there may be a conflict of interest, you are encouraged to discuss your questions with the Action Editor.

Publication Recommendation

Please communicate your publication recommendation only by selecting a recommendation from the list on the reviewer form and in the "Comments for Editor". Please do not make an explicit recommendation about acceptance, revision, or rejection in the section entitled "Comments for Authors."

In making your publication recommendation, please consider these guidelines developed by the APA Publication and Communication Board: To merit publication each manuscript must make an original, valid, and significant contribution to an area of psychology appropriate for the journal to which it is submitted.

That is:

  • A manuscript cannot have been published, in whole or in part, in another journal or readily available work (See Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition), pp. 17–20).
  • A manuscript must be accurate, and the conclusions and generalizations must follow from the data.
  • A manuscript must be more than free of major fault—it must be an important contribution to the literature.
  • A manuscript must be appropriate for the journal to which it is submitted.

For a manuscript not meeting all those criteria, you will usually recommend rejection, with detailed reasons for your recommendation.

As you consider these policies in formulating your publication recommendation to the Action Editor, it may be helpful to think in terms of the answers to three sequential questions:

  • Is the topic of the manuscript appropriate for JFP? (See the JFP homepage for a description of the scope of JFP)
  • Can the flaws in this manuscript be remedied in a revision or is there a fatal flaw?
  • Does the manuscript make a significant scientific contribution to the field of family psychology and will the information provided advance our understanding?

Written Critique

In this section, we provide a suggested approach for crafting your written critique. We are cognizant of the fact that there are myriad ways to effectively review manuscripts and thus, it is not our aim to be prescriptive or to impose rigid conformity. Rather, these recommendations are designed with the intent of guiding those who are relatively new to the task of reviewing for this journal and those who would welcome having a framework for writing their narrative evaluations.

General Style

We recommend that you phrase your written critique as a communication about the manuscript between you and the Action Editor.

In general, either refer to the author(s) in the third person or not at all, as this makes it easier for people to be receptive to the reviewer's feedback. Although the review should be written to the Action Editor, it should be stated in a fashion that you could share directly and face-to-face with an author.

In general, reviews typically are from 1–2 single spaced pages.

Organization

Many reviewers begin their narrative by summarizing the investigation and key findings. Doing so both conveys to the author(s) that you have carefully read the paper and serves to refresh your memory about the article at a later date when you receive copies of the editorial decision letter and other reviews. Many reviewers conclude the first section of the narrative with a statement about the strengths and significance of the work.

Following this, 1–2 paragraphs commenting generally on the article, both its positive features and general issues of concern may be helpful. It is in this section that many reviewers note ways in which the paper may not be written in a fashion consistent with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition).

After the opening paragraphs, written critiques often vary in order and it is not necessary to offer commentary on each section of the manuscript. Some reviewers opt to offer commentary section by section, whereas others begin with their most significant concerns and follow this by attention to more minor issues.

In either case, it is helpful if you convey to the Action Editor which points are most significant and worthy of the most attention. It facilitates the editorial process if you number each substantive point or request for revision, and therefore we strongly urge you to number each key point/request for modification.

In general, in crafting your reviews, please:

  • delineate the overarching aims of the manuscript and its key take-home points
  • address the significance of the work and its relevance to family psychology
  • acknowledge the strengths and significance of the manuscript
  • offer constructive input with regard to ways to enhance the quality of the paper, with attention paid to conceptual underpinnings, methodological sophistication, data analytic approach, interpretation of the findings, implications (practice, policy, future scholarship) (with attention first to major critiques and then to more minor ones)
  • address the utility of the tables, figures, and supplemental materials
  • comment on the overall clarity, lucidity, and coherence of the written presentation
  • consider the appropriateness of the title, abstract, and length of the paper

In the section below, attention is paid to some of the issues worthy of consideration in each section of the manuscript.

Abstract

It is helpful to comment on the Abstract. Please consider whether or not the Abstract conveys clearly the purpose of the study, provides a balanced and accurate depiction of the key findings, and addresses the implications of the work for family psychology.

Background

For this section, please address whether or not the author(s) build a compelling case for the significance of the study and the way in which it advances the field and offers new information. Consideration should be given to the conceptual framework for the work and how it guides the investigation itself and the writing of the manuscript.

Attention also should be paid to the clarity and importance of the goals and the extent to which the hypotheses associated with each goal are delineated and a logical outgrowth of the background information provided. There also should be appropriate justification provided in this section for the study methodology, whether that be quantitative or qualitative in nature.

Methods

In this section, please pay attention to the extent to which the author(s) provided adequate detail so that future investigators can replicate the work. In other words, the population should be clearly delineated and it should be evident to the reader that the sample (e.g., characteristics, inclusion and exclusion criterion, attrition) was appropriate for addressing the study question and of adequate size to have reasonable power. The reader should have sufficient information to draw conclusions about the generalizability of the findings.

Attention also should be paid to procedures for recruiting and retaining the sample, assessing the sample, and intervening with the sample (if applicable). The study procedures need to be tied to the study goals and hypotheses and the key constructs need to be appropriately operationalized.

Attention should be paid to the appropriateness of the measures, including their linkage to key constructs and relevance to the study population, psychometric properties, and scoring or coding. When addressing intervention conditions, they need to be described in sufficient detail that the reader understands what was done with the couple or family on the part of the therapist. Randomized controlled trial data need to be presented in accord with the CONSORT Statement.

For studies that use qualitative methodology, the methodology needs to be consistent with the paradigmatic approach guiding the work; attention must be paid to the researcher's stance in relation to the participants, community, and phenomenon; and paradigm-appropriate strategies for managing subjectivity must be addressed. The investigator's interviewing stance and approach should be described. Information should be provided about the interview questions, as well as the training and supervision of interviewers. In addition means for data reduction should be clearly identified.

In the Methods section, the data analytic approach should be provided for both quantitative and qualitative designs so that others can replicate the results that were generated. Also in this section, attention should be paid to the ethical conduct of the research, including steps taken to reduce potential risks to participants

Results

In the Results section, the findings should be presented in a fashion that is consistent with the study's goals and hypotheses. The data analytic approach used should be designed to answer the study's questions and should be matched to the nature of the data. The material in the text should not duplicate that presented in tables or figures.

The presentation of the data for quantitative manuscripts should appear in a fashion consistent to the guidelines for reporting statistical analyses published in 1999 by Wilkinson and the Task Force on Statistical Inference (American Psychologist, 54 (8), 594–604). Plans for handling missing data should be addressed and reports of statistical significance should be coupled with an appropriate estimate of effect size. Attention should be paid to the use of appropriate strategies for correction for Type 1 error.

For qualitative studies, the findings should be presented in a fashion that is consistent with the overarching paradigm and approach, category labels should fit with the examples and categories adequately defined. The text depicting the results should be rich, but not exhaustive, and offer complex and nuanced descriptions and examples.

Regardless of the type of study, quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods, the results should be presented in a fashion that is reader-friendly, concise, fluid, and interesting. Tables and figures should help bring the findings to life.

Discussion

In commenting on the Discussion section, remember that an effective Discussion section integrates the findings with relevant theory and empirical data and is not simply a restatement of the results section. However, it should be linked to the Background and Methods sections.

The assertions made about the meaning of the results should be consistent with the data and should take into account both the practical and statistical significance of the data. Plausible explanations should be offered for data that differ from what was expected or from other literature and alternative explanations for the findings should be offered. The unique contributions of the findings to the literature should be conveyed to the reader. All key study limitations should be noted.

It is essential that attention be paid to the implications (theory, research, practice, policy) of the data.