Dear Journal Editor,
Thank you for the invitation to review a paper for your publication. I would be happy to do this. I have just one condition.
I love reviewing, I really do. I love the feeling of being among the first to see new results, and I relish the opportunity to help improve and refine a paper so that it makes the best contribution possible. I also think I’m quite good at it. I have amassed 30-odd years of scientific experience and I have an instinct for results that are real, findings that are really (as opposed to statistically) significant, hypotheses that have been validly tested, and conclusions that follow logically and plausibly from the findings. I have a nose for good writing and a distaste for woffle. I think I add value to a paper, and thus to your journal, by suggesting clarity, or new analyses, or even (in some cases) new experiments and computational models. I take my time reviewing and I do it carefully.
Here’s the thing, though. I am really, really busy. Eye-bleedingly busy – running a lab, a department, and (I almost forgot) a family. I read the papers that I’m reviewing in snatched moments between other tasks – on trains, planes and automobiles, in cafes and pubs, in bed when the kids are asleep, in meetings. I almost always read them electronically and on the move, not sitting in my office with my feet propped on my desk, smoking a pipe and idly browsing a pile of paper pages. This is not 1950.
So here’s my condition. I will review your paper for you if you do one thing for me, and that is NUMBER THE FIGURES AND PUT THE LEGENDS BESIDE THEM, SO THAT I DON’T HAVE TO KEEP SCROLLING BACK AND FORTH THROUGH THE PDF!!!
We have had electronic manuscripts for 20 years and more, and yet your manuscripts are still formatted as they were in 1950. You have done many things to make publishing easier but nothing, as far as I can see, to make reviewing easier. It will only take you 5 minutes to organise the pdf to be read comfortably on a screen, and will save me much time and hassle, for which I will reward you, I promise, with a thoughtful and considered review drawn from the deepest well of my insights and years of experience.
With best wishes,
PS It would be really really great if you could also actually put the figures in the text where they belong – but baby steps…