REVIEWS SHED LIGHT ON TECHNICAL
TCAFS Newsletter Staff Report
Dick Luebke is the current Research Program Director for the Texas
Parks and Wildlife Department's Inland Fisheries Division and the Associate Editor for
Fisheries of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Because of his
role as a program leader in research and as a technical editor, Dick has reviewed hundreds
of fisheries papers. This has given him an in-depth understanding of why some papers shine
and others go to "major revision land". In a 1995 presentation to TPWD Inland
Fisheries Biologists, Dick laid out some of his suggestions for editing papers, with the
suggestion that the material applied equally to writing of technical manuscripts. In a two
part series we present a synopsis of Dicks presentation that should be helpful to
anyone writing technical manuscripts. In part one we focus on some general review
techniques and suggestions. In part two each section of a manuscript will be broken down
into its components from an editor's point of view. Our thanks to Dick for sharing his
insight into the editing and writing of technical manuscripts with our members.
Why do reviews in the first place? It is your responsibility as a fisheries professional
and is your chance to improve fisheries science through improved communication of
technical information. Fifty years from now we will likely no longer be active in
fisheries, but information we publish will last forever. We need to do whatever we can to
make sure it is as good as it can be. Editing will make you a better writer because you
will learn from what others have written. You will discover good things to use in your
writing and see mistakes youll want to avoid.
In general there are a few things you can do to make your review worthwhile. First, be
quick about it. There seems to be a direct relationship between turnaround time and the
quality of reviews. Those received on or after the deadline tend to be of poorer quality.
Allow enough time to do a thorough review. Although it varies from paper to paper, a good
rule of thumb is to allow one complete day. Stay with the review until you are finished.
You will do a much better job if you finish the review in one sitting rather than coming
back to it between interruptions.
Do an initial "quick" review first, reading through the entire paper quickly to
get a feel for what it is about without worrying about marking on it. Make an extra copy
of the paper so you can use it as a "scribble" copy. During the initial quick
review make simple margin marks at places with obvious errors or awkward wording, anything
causing you to stumble as you read. Come back later to get resolution on these margin
marks. Determine what the objective is. Find it and highlight it. The objective should
serve as the foundation upon which each individual section of the paper is built. The
importance of the reviewer understanding the objective cannot be overemphasized. In
general on the initial quick review focus on the big picture, getting a handle on the
forest, not the trees. Worry about details later.
During detailed review play devils advocate. Challenge everything! If you find
yourself thinking "Says who?" its a dead giveaway a citation is needed to
support a statement. It is not good enough to write so you can be understood; you must
write well enough so you cannot be misunderstood. For instance the following sentence is
from a manuscript submitted to a fisheries journal: "During winter and spring, 1992
and 1993, 125,000 fish were stocked." To the casual reader this sentence looks fine.
However, to the critical reviewer the answer to the question of how many total fish were
stocked could range from 125,000 to 500,000. Likewise, the answer to the question of how
many stockings took place could range from one to four. Look for statements needing more
qualification and those needing less.
Generally papers tend to be what they are throughout. If misspelled words are found,
chances are numerous other "sloppy" errors will be present as well. If the
authors paid attention to details they will have paid attention to everything else too.
However, beware of good writing. Never assume there is nothing wrong with an extremely
well written paper. Good writing tends to numb an otherwise critical reader. Dont
allow yourself to be fooled.
Part two of this series will appear in the summer edition of the
Back to Newsletter Table