Referee instructions

Journal aims and scope

Humanities & Social Sciences Communications is an online, open access journal that publishes academic research in and between all areas of the humanities, and social and behavioural sciences. It operated until June 16th 2020 under the name Palgrave Communications.

The journal’s scope is inclusive and is open to theoretical, methodological, quantitative and qualitative scholarship. A range of research types is accepted, including: papers of niche or specialist focus, interdisciplinary perspectives, reports of negative results, and studies presenting academically justified replications.

Click here for an expanded description of our aims and scope.

Editorial decisions are made by our Editorial Board of active academics who manage the peer review process and decide which manuscripts should be published. The Editorial Board is supported by in-house Editors.

Criteria for publication

To be published in the journal, a paper must satisfy all of these criteria:

  1. Report research that is within the journal’s scope;
  2. Pose a clear and valid research question;
  3. Be academically sound in methodology and analysis;
  4. Provide appropriate evidence or reasoning for the conclusions;
  5. Make a contribution to the literature—irrespective to magnitude (we do not consider abstracts and internet preprints to compromise this);
  6. Be presented in an intelligible fashion and in standard English.

Reviewers and Editors are requested to scrutinise a paper on the basis of the above criteria alone. Judgements of perceived importance, significance or impact should not inform your recommendation; the research community makes such assessments after publication.

If a paper has been sent out for peer review this implies that the Editors consider it to be within the journal’s scope.

Papers submitted for Guest-edited Collections that are judged inappropriate on the basis of scope, can be considered for publication in the general section of the journal. The Editor will communicate this decision to the author at the end of the review process.

The review process

Peer review is an essential part of the research process. Fundamentally we want the review process to be a collaborative one between authors and reviewers, with the intention of ensuring the publication of rigorous research.

Manuscripts that appear to be academically valid upon initial assessment will be sent for formal review. The journal uses double-blind review, which means that the authors’ identities are concealed from the reviewers, and vice versa. Click here for a full description of the review process.

Referees are asked to recommend a particular course of action (i.e., acceptance, minor revisions, major revisions, or rejection). The most useful reports, therefore, provide us with the information on which a decision should be based. Setting out the arguments for and against publication is often also helpful.

After considering the reviewer reports, the handling Editor will make one of the following decisions:

  • Accept outright;
  • Accept in principle, where authors make some final modifications (often editorial in nature) to prepare the paper for publication;
  • Request a minor revision, where authors revise their manuscript to address specific concerns;
  • Request a major revision, where authors revise their manuscript to address significant concerns and perhaps undertake additional work;
  • Reject outright.

We may go back to referees for further advice, particularly in cases where referees disagree with each other, or where the authors believe they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that referees should be willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are very aware, however, that referees are normally reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to provide a fair hearing for the authors.

When referees agree to review a paper, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions as well. However, editors will not send resubmitted papers to the referees if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the referees' criticisms.

We take referees' criticisms very seriously, and in particular, we are very reluctant to disregard technical criticisms. In cases where one referee opposes publication, we may consult with the other referee(s) as to whether s/he is applying an unduly critical standard. We occasionally bring in new referees to resolve disputes or to provide additional perspectives.

Selecting referees

Reviewer selection is critical to the review process, and it is the responsibility of our handling Editors to choose appropriate referees. Their choice is based on multiple factors, including expertise, specific recommendations, and previous experience. Invitations to review a manuscript are confidential. The Editors may consider reviewer recommendations made by authors on submission. The journal does not rely on a defined ‘peer reviewer pool’ or similar, favouring instead to approach the most appropriate experts in a given area to assess a paper.

Writing the review

The primary purpose of the review is to provide our Editorial Board Members with the information needed to reach a decision. A review should aim to instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their manuscript to the point where it may be acceptable for publication. Feedback should be as constructive and instructive as possible.

Editors and reviewers should assess papers exclusively against the journal’s criteria for publication. Editorial assessments should not be made on the basis of perceived importance, significance or impact; the research community will make this judgement after publication.

We ask that in assessing submitted papers, the following conventions are followed:

  • Editors and reviewers should keep their own identities anonymous;
  • Reviews should be conducted objectively;
  • Personal criticism of the author is inappropriate;
  • Reviewers should express their views clearly with supporting arguments and references as necessary and not be defamatory or libellous;
  • Reviewers should declare any competing interests in the notes to the Editor section of the report form;
  • Reviewers should decline to review manuscripts with which they believe they have a competing interest resulting from competitive, collaborative, or other relationships or connections with any of the authors, companies, or institutions connected to the papers;
  • Reviewers should respect the confidentiality of material supplied to them and not discuss unpublished manuscripts with colleagues or use the information in their own work;
  • Any reviewer who wants to pass a review request onto a colleague must contact the journal in the first instance.

Concerns relating to these points, or any aspect of the review process, should be raised with the editorial team.

Elements of a reviewer report

Before starting to review a paper for the journal please familiarise yourself with the journal’s criteria for publication. Your recommendation must be based exclusively on those criteria.

In your report, please comment on the following aspects of the manuscript:

Key arguments or results

Your overview of the key messages of the paper, in your own words, highlighting what you find interesting or notable. Usually, this can be summarised in a short paragraph.


Your evaluation of the soundness and robustness of the research question and conclusions. If you feel there are flaws (whether logical, analytical, ethical or other) that prohibit the manuscript’s publication, please describe them in detail.

Data and/or methodology

Your assessment of the validity of the approach, the quality of the data, and the quality of presentation. We ask reviewers to assess all data, including those provided as supplementary information. If any aspect of the data is outside the scope of your expertise, please note this in your report or in the comments to the editor.

Analytical approach

Your assessment of the strength of the analytical approach (e.g., the validity and comprehensiveness of any statistical tests, or logical coherence of any arguments developed). If any aspect of the analytical approach is outside the scope of your expertise, please note this in your report or in the comments to the editor.


Please indicate whether the paper makes a contribution to the literature — irrespective to any perceived magnitude. Our requirement is that a paper should report something specific and not simply repeat what is already known in the literature. If you feel the work simply restates what is already know, please provide evidence. Please do not base your recommendation (accept, minor, major or reject) on features such as the perceived significance, degree of advance or impact of the research in question. You are, however, welcome to comment on these aspects as extra information for the authors, if you wish.

Suggested improvements

Your suggestions for modifications or amplifications (e.g., including experiments, data, additional discussion) that could help strengthen the work and make it suitable for publication in the journal. Suggestions should be limited to the present scope of the manuscript; that is, they should only include what can be reasonably addressed in a revision and exclude what would significantly change the scope of the work. The Editor will assess all the suggestions received and provide additional guidance to the authors.

Clarity and context

Your view on the clarity and accessibility of the text, and whether the results have been provided with sufficient context and consideration of previous work. While we do not require you to comment on specific phraseological or grammatical issues (unless essential), we do invite feedback on the clarity and logic of the narrative and arguments developed.


Your view on whether the manuscript references previous literature appropriately — or whether additional works should be taken into account. You are welcome to provide suggestions for additional reading only if they are of direct relevance to the work in question.

Your expertise

Please indicate any particular part of the manuscript, data or analyses that you feel is outside the scope of your expertise, or that you were unable to assess fully.

In addressing the above points, some key questions to consider include:

  • Does the paper pose a clear and valid research question?
  • What are the core claims of the paper? Are these clearly conveyed in the abstract and conclusions?
  • Does the paper make a contribution (however incremental)? If not, please identify the major papers that suggest otherwise.
  • Is the surrounding relevant and recent literature adequately presented?
  • Is the paper methodologically/technically sound? Is sufficient detail provided?
  • Are the claims convincing, even if not significant? If not, what further evidence is needed?
  • Are the claims fully supported by the argument(s) and/or any associated data?
  • Are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of previous literature?
  • If applicable, have the authors complied with the journal's policy and the research community's expectations on the availability of research data?
  • Is the manuscript clearly written and structured? If not, how could it be made more accessible?
  • Are arguments or claims proportionate and not oversold?
  • If the paper is unacceptable in its present form, does it seem sufficiently promising that the authors should be encouraged to consider a resubmission in the future? If so, what changes would ensure it is publishable?

When submitting your review you will be given the opportunity to provide comments that will be transmitted to authors as well as comments that are solely for the Editors.

Finally, you will be asked to make an overall recommendation:

  • Accept;
  • Accept after minor revision;
  • Probably acceptable after major revision with re-review;
  • Unacceptable as is, but worth reconsideration if extensively revised;
  • Reject - you should recommend ‘reject’ if all six of the journal’s criteria for publication are not satisfied, or, you believe they are unlikely to be satisfied with revision, even a major one.

Please note that it is this journal’s policy to remain strictly neutral with respect to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations, and the naming conventions used in maps and affiliation are left to the discretion of authors. Referees should not, therefore, request authors to make any changes to such unless it is critical to the clarity of the academic content of a manuscript.


Editorial Board Members and reviewers must treat the review process as strictly confidential, and not discuss the manuscript with anyone not directly involved in the review. It is acceptable to consult with colleagues, but we ask that they are identified to the Editor. Consulting with experts from outside the referee's own group may also be acceptable, but please check with the editorial office before doing so, to avoid involving anyone who may have been excluded by the authors.


We are committed to providing rapid editorial decisions and publication, and we believe that an efficient editorial process is a valuable service both to our authors and to the scientific community. We therefore ask reviewers to provide a report promptly; ideally within approximately 21 days of receiving a manuscript, but this may be extended by prior arrangement. If referees anticipate a delay, we ask them to inform the editorial office so that we can keep the authors informed and, where necessary, find alternative referees.


We do not release reviewers' identities to authors or to other reviewers. We ask that reviewers remain anonymous throughout the review process and beyond.

We ask referees not to identify themselves to authors without the Editor’s knowledge. If they wish to reveal their identities, this should be done via the editorial office.

We deplore any attempt by authors to confront reviewers or determine their identities. We neither confirm nor deny any speculation about reviewers' identities, and we encourage referees to adopt a similar policy.

Editing referees' reports

As part of our editorial policies, we do not edit reviewer reports and any comments that were intended for the authors are transmitted, regardless of what we may think of the content. On rare occasions, we may edit a report to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information about other matters. We ask referees to avoid comments that may cause needless offence but authors should recognise that criticisms are not necessarily unfair simply because they are expressed in robust language.

Competing interests

We aim to respect requests of our authors to exclude specific Board Members or referees. We also try to avoid referees who have recent or ongoing collaborations with the authors, who have commented on drafts of the manuscript, who are in direct competition to publish the same finding, who we know to have a history of dispute with the authors, or who have a financial interest in the outcome. It is not possible for the Editor or publishing team to know of all potential biases, so we ask referees to draw attention to anything that might affect their review, and to decline invitations to review in cases where they feel unable to be objective.

We recognise, however, that competing interests are not always clear-cut, and the above circumstances need not automatically undermine the validity of a report. Indeed, the people best-qualified to evaluate a paper are often those closest to the field, and a sceptical attitude towards a particular claim does not mean that a referee cannot be persuaded by new evidence. Editors try to take these factors into account when weighing referees' reports.

Referees who have reviewed a paper for another journal might feel that it is unfair to the authors for them to re-review it again. We disagree - the fact that two journals have independently identified a particular person as well-qualified to review a paper does not, in our view, decrease the validity of their opinion.

Online manuscript review

Referees must submit their comments via our online submission system by following the link provided in the original invitation email. For help with our manuscript tracking system please contact the editorial office.