9 June, 2023

Redlining is a process commonly used in scientific research and peer review to provide constructive feedback and critical evaluation of research manuscripts. While redlining traditionally refers to marking text with red ink to indicate areas for revision, the process has transitioned to digital platforms, making it easier and more efficient.

The redlining process is a collaborative process, typically focused on optimizing a single document in preparation for submission to an industry journal or forum. For those with the responsibility of providing feedback, it is essential that their comments remain objective, constructive, and respectful, maintaining a focus on improving the value of the document to the larger professional community.

A Quick Guide to Scientific Research & Peer Review Redlining Techniques:

Review the Manuscript: Carefully read the research manuscript and familiarize yourself with its content, structure, and objectives. Take note of any major issues or areas that require improvement, such as unclear or ambiguous statements, weak arguments, inconsistent data, incomplete references, or grammatical errors.

Use Redlining Techniques: Word processing and redlining software can vary in how a manuscript can be marked up. Most use tools to annotate text, with a column to the right of the main text body for comments. In making annotations, ensure that the text area in question is clearly marked and that your comments are concise and on point.

Digital annotation tools include:

  • Highlighting: Use highlighting to draw attention to specific sentences, phrases, or paragraphs that require revision or further explanation
  • Underlining: Underline sections that may contain errors, inconsistencies, or lack supporting evidence
  • Comments: Add comments to provide detailed feedback, suggestions, or questions. These comments should be constructive, providing specific suggestions for improvement or clarification

Digital Comment Tools: Several popular word processing apps include a way to add commentary to a document. Examples are Microsoft Word’s "Track Changes" feature, Google Docs “Suggesting” mode, and ShareVault’s Collabloop, which is software with features specifically designed for the document redlining process. With commentary tools, reviewers can suggest edits, add comments, and bring up issues or questions.

  • Use the software’s highlighting or underlining tools to specify the subject area of your comments
  • Multiple contributors can add comments, creating a collaborative infusion of expertise
  • Some software providers include a ‘versions’ tool that maintains a record of changes and feedback

Commenting and Annotating PDFs: If the research document is in the PDF format, utilize the annotation features built into Adobe Acrobat or other PDF readers. As with Word, Docs, or ShareVault’s Collabloop, use these tools to add comments, highlight text, and suggest changes. This approach facilitates detailed feedback and allows for back-and-forth discussions among researchers.

Version Control Systems: In scientific research, version control systems are commonly used to track changes in code and written documents. Version tracking ensures transparency and helps maintain a comprehensive record of changes. That record is necessary for submissions that are reviewed by regulatory agencies.

With a version control document, researchers can make edits or comments within the document or create a new ‘revisions’ document. Word processing systems like Word and Docs can retain the most recent versions; some researchers use specialized software like Git and GitHub to maintain a more complete version history. ShareVault’s Collabloop automatically retains a copy of every version, and can present a detailed history of time, date, and user.

Online Collaborative Research Platforms: An online platform designed for collaborative research, such as Overleaf (for LaTeX-based documents), offers real-time editing, commenting, and revision tracking features. An online collaborative research platform allows researchers to work together simultaneously, making it easier to share feedback, review, and revise scientific papers.

Peer Review Systems: Many scientific journals and conferences have their own peer review systems in place, which provide specific guidelines for reviewers. These systems typically offer online interfaces where reviewers can access and evaluate manuscripts, provide detailed comments, ratings, and recommendations within the system itself.

Collaborate to Ensure Rigor, Accuracy, and Quality

The originator of a scientific research piece has undoubtedly invested significant time and brainpower in creating the document at hand. As a reviewer, respect that investment by carefully reviewing your own comments and revisions before hitting the ‘submit’ button. Your focus on rigorous review and double-checked accuracy will improve the quality of the final submission and the state of your profession.