Instructions for Referees

The Canadian Journal of Economics (CJE) relies heavily on the conscientious efforts of numerous referees and we thank them for their services. Below, we have provided some questions and answers that might be helpful in guiding those individuals who have kindly agreed to act as a referee for the journal.


Are referees compensated in any way?

Yes. Referees who submit reports on time (within six weeks) receive a free one-year membership in the Canadian Economics Association (CEA), which includes an online subscription to the CJE, and also means that these referees can submit papers to the CJE without paying a membership fee.

For referees who already belong to the CEA, the extra membership year will be added to their memberships. For referees who do not yet belong to the CEA, a free membership will be granted for the remainder of the current calendar year or for the following calendar year if the review is received between October and December.

This compensation applies only to the "first round" on a paper. Free membership is small compensation for the effort involved in refereeing, but we hope it provides some tangible recognition of referees' contributions.


What is the CJE looking for in a paper?

A potentially publishable paper should meet the following criteria. Failure to meet any one of these criteria might be sufficient to recommend rejection.

  1. The motivation for the paper should be clear and compelling. Typically the motivation will include a clearly specified research question and a statement as to why this question is interesting. However, a paper whose primary motivation is to synthesize earlier work might also be publishable.
  2. The analysis in the paper should be correct and should be appropriately rigorous given the research question.
  3. The paper must be sufficiently original to warrant publication. Typically, this originality arises from new theoretical results or new empirical findings, but it may arise from new interpretation or synthesis of known material.
  4. The paper should be well written. In particular, the logical structure of the paper should be clear, and the paper should be relatively free from errors of grammar and usage. A skillful author can usually make an intrinsically difficult argument reasonably easy to follow, while poor writing can make even minor or trivial points hard to understand.
  5. The paper should be potentially interesting to a reasonably broad group of potential readers. These readers might be confined to a particular field within economics, but the ideal paper is one that would capture the interest of other readers as well.


How much time should a referee spend on a paper?

The amount of time taken with a paper can vary enormously - anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days of full-time effort. A typical report should probably take 3 or 4 hours. Keep in mind that the CJE rejects about 80% of papers received. If you quickly form the opinion that the paper is not likely to "make the cut", you do not need to spend much time with it. Constructive thoughtful criticism is always helpful to authors, but if all you have time for is a short report, and you can provide it quickly, the editors would encourage you to do so. Do not delay a report just because you are having difficulty thinking of constructive suggestions.


How quickly does the editor expect my report?

We ask referees to handle papers within six weeks of receipt, allowing a turn-around time of about three months from the author's point of view. We would suggest the following approach:

  1. When the paper first arrives (i.e. within the first week) take a quick look at it. You might be able to quickly form an opinion that the paper should be rejected, based perhaps on similarity to existing work or lack of overall significance.
  2. If you can come to a quick decision of this type, take an hour or so to write up a short report, briefly explaining your concerns, then send submit your report.
  3. If, on the other hand, the paper looks interesting and well-done, then you will probably want to put the paper away until you have time to read it more thoroughly.


When can I reasonably decline a request to referee a paper?

Referees are under a lot of time pressure and might sometimes need to send papers back without refereeing them. Please keep the following points in mind:

  1. If you have recently had a paper published, accepted for publication, or had a revision requested of a submitted paper at the CJE, the editors will expect you to do a reasonable amount of refereeing.
  2. If you must decline a request to referee, then please let the editor know as soon as possible (within a few days of receiving the request).
  3. It is helpful to provide the names of alternative referees. However, names of obvious prominent scholars are not much help, as the editor has probably thought of them already. Ideal suggestions are young active scholars who might not be overburdened with other duties and with whom the editor might not be familiar.
  4. If you are not competent to referee a paper in a particular area, you should return the paper and explain the reason, indicating a willingness to handle papers in your area, which you should specify clearly. Keep in mind, however, that the editor might have asked you precisely because you can provide a different perspective. It is helpful to the editor if you make comments appropriate to your background, even if you cannot appreciate all aspects of a paper.


Do I need to check the algebra or the empirical analysis?

Only rarely would a referee be in a position to check empirical results. Often the referee has neither sufficient time nor access to the necessary data to replicate the empirical analysis in a paper. Usually the best you can do is to convince yourself that the results seem plausible, given your knowledge of the area, and are internally consistent. The editors are, however, encouraging authors to make their data and (where relevant) estimation algorithms available to referees and potentially to other interested parties. Checking algebra is much more feasible than checking empirical analysis, but even so it may often not be necessary. In particular, if you are recommending rejection for some reason other than concerns about the correctness of the analysis, there is no need to check the algebraic details of the paper. Even if you are favourably disposed toward a paper, it will often be impossible to check everything. One useful approach is to check some items, particularly the initial model development, and then to make sure that you can at least understand why the other results make sense. If it is very hard to follow the algebraic development in a paper, then that is in itself a serious flaw in the paper.


What should I do if I have refereed the paper for another journal?

Even if you have refereed the paper for another journal, the editor will be interested in your view. Some referees adopt a blanket rule not to review the same paper twice, taking the view that authors should not have to face "double jeopardy". This is, of course, their decision to make. However, we would prefer that you let the editor know that you have refereed the paper before and indicate your current view of the paper. For example, you might have recommended rejecting the paper at a very top journal but might view it as a reasonable publication for the CJE. The editor will be particularly interested in whether the authors have made any effort to deal with your earlier comments. We would prefer you to let the editor make the call about the "double jeopardy" issue. If your concerns are mainly matters of "taste" the editor will get other opinions to make a reasonable decision. In many cases, however, a previous referee is an ideal referee for the paper and it seems a shame to waste the effort already expanded on the paper by asking someone else to duplicate that effort.