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Presentation and Documentation

Penn, Gary; Steinecke, Ann; Shea, Judy A.

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  • The text is well written and easy to follow.
  • The vocabulary is appropriate.
  • The content is complete and fully congruent.
  • The manuscript is well organized.
  • The data reported are accurate (e.g., numbers add up) and appropriate; tables and figures are used effectively and agree with the text.
  • Reference citations are complete and accurate.


Presentation refers to the clarity and effectiveness with which authors communicate their ideas. In addition to evaluating how well the researchers have constructed their study, collected their data, and interpreted important patterns in the information, reviewers need to evaluate whether the authors have successfully communicated all of these elements. Ensuring that ideas are properly presented, then, is the reviewer's final consideration when assessing papers for publication.

Clear, effective communication takes different forms. Straight prose is the most common; carefully chosen words, sentences, and paragraphs convey as much or as little detail as necessary. The writing should not be complicated by inappropriate vocabulary such as excessive jargon; inaccurately used words; undefined acronyms; or new, controversial, or evolving vocabulary. Special terms should be defined, and the vocabulary chosen for the study and presentation should be used consistently. Clarity is also a function of a manuscript's organization. In addition to following a required format, such as IMRaD, a manuscript's internal organization (sentences and paragraphs) should follow a logical progression that supports the topic. All information contained in the text should be clearly related to the topic.

In addition to assessing the clarity of the prose, reviewers should be prepared to evaluate graphic representations of information—tables, lists, and figures. When well done, they present complex information efficiently, and they reveal ideas that would take too many words to tell. Tables, lists, and figures should not simply repeat information that is given in the text; nor should they introduce data that are not accounted for in the Method section or contradict information given in the text.

Whatever form the presentation of information takes, the reviewer should be able to grasp the substance of the communication without having to work any harder than necessary. Of course, some ideas are quite complex and require both intricate explanation and great effort to comprehend, but too often simple ideas are dressed up in complicated language without good reason. The reviewer needs to consider how well the author has matched the level of communication to the complexity of the substance in his or her presentation.

Poor presentation may, in fact, directly reflect poor content. When the description of the method of a study is incomprehensible to the reviewer, it may hint at the researcher's own confusion about the elements of his or her study. Jargon-filled conclusions may reflect a researcher's inability to apply his or her data to the real world. This is not always true, however; some excellent researchers are simply unable to transfer their thoughts to paper without assistance. Sorting these latter authors from the former is a daunting task, but the reviewer should combine a consideration of the presentation of the study with his or her evaluation of the methodologic and interpretive elements of the paper.

The reviewer's evaluation of the presentation of the manuscript should also extend to the presentation of references. Proper documentation ensures that the source of material cited in the manuscript is accurately and fully acknowledged. Further, accurate documentation allows readers to quickly retrieve the referenced material. And finally, proper documentation allows for citation analysis, a count of the times a published article is cited in subsequent articles. Journals describe their documentation formats in their instructions to authors, and the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals details suggested formats. Reviewers should not concern themselves with the specific details of a reference list's format; instead, they should look to see whether the documentation appears to provide complete and up-to-date information about all the material cited in the text (e.g., author's name, title, journal, date, volume, page number). Technologic advances in the presentation of information have meant the creation of citation formats for a wide variety of media, so reviewers can expect there to be documentation for any type of material presented in the text.

The extent to which a reviewer must judge presentation depends on the journal. Some journals (e.g., Academic Medicine) employ editors who work closely with authors to clearly shape text and tables; reviewers, then, can concentrate on the substance of the study. Other journals publish articles pretty much as authors have submitted them; in those cases, the reviewers' burden is greater. Reviewers may not be expected to edit the papers, but their comments can help authors revise any presentation problems before final acceptance.

Because ideas are necessarily communicated through words and pictures, presentation and substance often seem to overlap. As much as possible, the substantive aspects of the criteria for this section are covered in other sections of this guide.


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                                    Section Description

                                    Review Criteria for Research Manuscripts

                                    Joint Task Force of Academic Medicine and the GEA-RIME Committee

                                    © 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges