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Review Guidelines

The editors of ACM TSC recognize that reviewing is a service to the field. They deeply appreciate the contributions that reviewers play as members of the journal’s editorial team in enabling the journal to function effectively and in maintaining its quality. This document offers some advice for reviewers as they carry out this important duty.

Peer review process

Each person who is invited to review for TSC is invited by one of the journal’s associate editors (AEs) (in the case of a special issue, by one of the special issue editors) on the basis of the invitee’s known interests and expertise.

Manuscripts and reviews of manuscripts are handled on the Manuscript Central system. The invitation to review a paper will includes links to access the system. The site provides instructions about how to download the manuscript and submit a review. Please use the system to submit the review; AEs cannot enter reviews for a reviewer.

It is best to write the review in an editor or word processor (partly to avoid the danger of losing work by inadvertently navigating away from the web page). Use only unformatted text (i.e., without things like italics, bolding, special characters or bulleted lists) that can be pasted into the field where you will enter the review. The system will leave line breaks and blank space as they are when the review is pasted into the system’s form.

By default, reviews are due 3 weeks after the request is accepted, but AEs can extend the deadline for exceptional circumstances.

When the final decision is made on a manuscript, reviewers will receive a copy of the decision letter, which includes all of the reviews as well as the comments of the AE, and can also access it via the ScholarOne Manuscripts system.

Decision criteria

Papers for the ACM TSC must be of high quality and fall within the scope of the journal. There are four main ingredients to an acceptable paper.

  1. The technical quality is high.
  2. The relevance to practice is high.
  3. Interest and novelty is high.
  4. The presentation is effective.

Few papers excel in all of these criteria, but a substandard level in any is sufficient ground for rejection. Reviewers should consider the following as they prepare their reviews:

  • What are the major contributions of the paper?
  • How relevant is the submission to the topics covered by the journal?
  • How innovative is the research being presented?
  • Is the submission significantly different or better than previously published material?
  • What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is the work technically sound?
  • Is the analysis adequate?
  • Is the treatment of the subject complete?
  • Does the paper cite and use appropriate references? (There should not be a high number of self-references.)
  • Is the length appropriate to the contribution?
  • Is the quality of the presentation adequate?
  • Is it well written?

Reviewers should not spend their valuable time listing typing and editing errors that can be recognized without their specialized expertise. If and when the submission is accepted, the authors will be asked to check the final version carefully for this type of problem and there will be a subsequent phase of professional copy-editing. On the other hand, it is helpful to point out mistakes like errors in equations if others might lack the knowledge required to notice them. And you should certainly note if the problems get in the way of understanding the paper.

In very rare cases, a reviewers may suspect author misconduct (e.g., plagiarism, duplicate submission or falsification of results) associated with the paper that they are reviewing. If so, they should contact the AE handling the paper immediately and be prepared to provide documentation explaining the allegations. All such cases are handled confidentially according to the ACM Publication Board guidelines and should not be discussed with anyone other than the AE and Editor-in-Chief.

Decision categories and conditions

Reviewers are asked to make a recommendation for the decision for the paper, choosing from Accept, Minor Revision, Major Revision, and Reject. Many papers require substantial revisions before acceptance, and reviewers should not hesitate to recommend changes that are required for completeness, correctness, or to substantially improve clarity.

  • Accept a paper when the submission is excellent, and there are no suggestions for improvement. It is rare for a submission to be immediately acceptable; more likely, this recommendation will be made for a paper that has been resubmitted after revisions.
  • Choose Minor Revision when the paper should be accepted after slight revisions. Minor revisions are changes to the manuscript (a) that can almost certainly be completed by the authors with a few days of work and (b) whose success can be checked by the responsible associate editor without consultation with the paper’s reviewers.
  • Choose Major Revision if a paper has real potential, but a large component should be redone and re-reviewed. In this case, the review should be clear about what changes are needed. Reviewers will be invited to re-review the revised paper when it is resubmitted.
  • Reject a paper when the submission does not meet publication standards and where a revision is not feasible, either because of some insurmountable flaw in the work (e.g., problems with data collection) or simply because of the scope of the revisions needed would result in essentially a new paper.

Reviews should be detailed enough to help the author amend the manuscript and prepare it for publication, or help the authors understand why the manuscript is considered unacceptable for publication at this time and what they might do that would result in a publishable paper.

Reviewer comments are also important to guide the AE because reviewers sometimes disagree in their assessment and their detailed comments guide the AE to a decision. The recommendation of a very short review that offers no support for its position will likely be ignored. Even if you think the paper is great and should be accepted, please provide enough information and assessments to assure the editors that the paper meets traditionally high ACM journal standards. Note though that reviewer recommendations are just that, recommendations. AEs do not simply count votes, but rather comes to their own conclusions about the paper based on their own reading, augmented by the expert advice of the reviewers. In the case of significant disagreements among the reviewers, the AE can choose to moderate a discussion among the reviewers before recommending a decision.

Tone of reviews

In completing the review, reviewers should avoid personal remarks, even if they have formed strong negative opinions about the manuscript. Reviews should be constructive and courteous and the reviewer should respect the intellectual independence of the author.

If there are comments that  should not be read by the author, there is a separate field on the score sheet for confidential comments to the Associate Editor. These remarks (as well as referee information) are strictly confidential and are not forwarded to the author.

Conflicts of interest (COI)

Reviewers should be alert for COIs and decline a review that involves a conflict of interest (COI). If a reviewer cannot judge a paper impartially, he or she should not accept it for review and should notify the AE. Examples of COIs are:

  • The reviewer has been directly involved in the work and will be receiving credit in some way.
  • The reviewer works at the same institution as one of the authors.
  • The reviewer is related to one of the authors.
  • The reviewer was an advisor to, or advisee of, one of the authors.
  • The reviewer is a member of one of the authors’ thesis committee, and the paper is about the thesis work.
  • The reviewer collaborated in the past four years with one of the authors  (e.g., written a paper or a grant proposal together).
  • The reviewer has unpublished work that would be scooped by the current submission.
  • The reviewer has a serious personal or professional dispute with one of the authors.
  • The reviewer believes that others might see a conflict of interest in their involvement in the review process.

Revisions of conference papers

TSC will  not automatically reject papers simply because they are extensions of previously-published conference papers. The submitted manuscript should cite the prior publication in the introduction or a footnote. It should have at least 25% new material (per ACM policy). The new material should be substantive, not just the addition of proofs or a few more performance figures. The revision provides an opportunity for the author to describe the novel approach in more depth, to consider the alternatives more comprehensively, and to delve into some of the issues listed in the conference paper as future work. The added benefits of the journal paper must either be apparent from a reading of the introduction or abstract, or should be clearly and concisely explained in a separate document that accompanies the submission. Reviewers are requested to check that the new submission makes a substantial advance on the prior publication sufficient to warrant publication.

Anonymity and confidentiality

Reviews are single blind: reviewers can see the names of the authors but not vice versa. By policy, ACM reviewers must remain anonymous to authors of a manuscript. Ensure that there is no identifying information in the content or the properties of any review or any uploaded documents.

Reviewers must protect the confidentiality of their involvement in the review process, of the reviews themselves and of the ideas represented in the submitted papers.

Acknowledgment of reviewing service

Reviewers are acknowledged on a page on the journal’s website. On request, the editor-in-chief will gladly write for an individual reviewer a formal letter of acknowledgment of reviewing service that describes the contributions that the reviewer has made (in a way consistent with the policy of reviewer anonymity).

General ACM policies

For more information on specific topics regarding publications, please see the ACM publications policies.

If at any time a reviewer has questions, suggestions, or concerns, he or she can communicate directly with the responsible AE and/or the editors-in-chief.

 
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