A Brief Guide for Writing Your Report as a Referee


MRes students are required to write two referee reports. These reports should not normally exceed one side of A4 paper.  Since you will read papers for the journal club, for your case presentations and for your summer project you may wish to choose one of these as a starting point.  In your report as a referee you should consider the following issues.

1) How important is the biological question addressed in your chosen paper?

2) How important/interesting are the results which have been obtained in this area? When assessing this, consider the importance of the paper for biologists and/or mathematicians in general, as well as for specialists in the chosen field.  A really great paper will usually provide a substantial advance i,n our understanding and will have profound implications both within its own field and beyond.  A lesser paper will add useful knowledge but this will be a smaller extension on what is already known, or relevant only to the immediate field of research (it can still be a very strong paper in this category).

3) How well are the conclusions of the paper supported?  In particular:

  • a) Are there any additional tests of the model/conclusions that should have, or could have reasonably been made to support the conclusions?  (If it really is essential to make very extensive additions to the paper this is unlikely to be practical and therefore the paper would usually be rejected.)
  • b) Are the data/conclusions internally consistent and consistent with other reports in the literature? If not, is there a concern about the present data and have the authors discussed plausible reasons for the discrepancy?  
  • c) Are the assumptions made likely to be valid?  Should the authors perform additional checks?


4)  Are appropriate ethical standards adhered to? This is usually relevant to the use of human or animal subjects/tissue, or the use of human data and should be cited by the authors in the Methods section.  

5)  Finally, have the most relevant papers in the literature been appropriately cited – do you know of any relevant papers that should be cited and have been missed?

The format of a referee's report is quite variable.   However, there is often a first paragraph which summarises the paper’s conclusions, methods and significance (in the view of the referee).  Often the strengths of the paper are highlighted here.  This is then followed by a series of points detailing the possible concerns about the methods or conclusions – try to choose a paper where you can make some useful suggestions.  Sometimes extra experiments or tests of the model are suggested by the referee to confirm the paper’s conclusions.  Sometimes referees also ask the authors to show additional data sets that they already have in order to clarify the paper’s findings.  Finally, you will need to recommend acceptance, revision or rejection and, unlike the usual anonymous reviews, please add your name!

Finally, please note that all reports will be subjected to plagiarism checks via Turnitin.  Plagiarism and all other forms of research misconduct will not be tolerated in any form and all students must abide by the UCL Graduate School code of conduct available here.

Download: A Brief Guide for Writing Your Report as a Referee (pdf)

Page last modified on 11 may 13 16:11