Guidelines for Discussants

Thank you for serving as a discussant for a PAA session. Your primary role is to provide the audience with perspective and insight about the substance and significance of papers. Discussants should briefly summarize the individual contributions in the papers and then move on to integrate them and relate them to the state of the science in the topic area addressed by the session. You can do this by highlighting key ideas, identifying key themes across the papers, posing challenging questions, and/or suggesting important directions for future work.

To access the papers in your session, log into MiraSmart and click Chair/Discussant Home if you are not taken there upon login. (Contact the PAA Program Manager if you cannot see the Chair/Discussant Home.) Here you will see information for any session for which you serve as Discussant or Chair. In addition to being able to access each submission, you will also be able to email presenters directly from MiraSmart.

In your analysis of individual papers, please note the paper's key contributions and strengths as well as its weaknesses. Critically analyze what the author has done and raise questions about assumptions, methods, and interpretation of findings. Make sure to emphasize the constructive in your comments: effective discussants often advance the ideas in the paper by providing new ideas or perspectives to improve the paper.

Your oral discussion of each paper should highlight major issues only. Please focus your critique on issues that members of the audience will need to understand in order to integrate, interpret, and reconcile the research that has been presented. In addition, please also highlight those issues most central to the further development of the science, rather than idiosyncratic problems. If you want to provide feedback about minor or idiosyncratic issues, please give them to the authors in writing (see below).

Remember that the audience has seen only the short presentations, not the full papers. If you are addressing a point that was not clearly presented by the author during the session, please explain the context for your remarks to the audience.

Please consider providing each author with written feedback. Authors appreciate receiving comments and critiques that are presented in an organized and thoughtful manner or a marked-up copy of their manuscript. Your thoughtful feedback will assist the authors in improving their work.

In presenting your discussion, please stay within the allotted time; most Discussants will be allocated 12 minutes, but that allocation is up to the Chair. It is important for the audience to have the opportunity to ask questions. Please be attentive to the Chair, who sets the time allocations and will be the time-keeper for the session.

Both experienced researchers as well as new professionals often find themselves struggling in their role as Discussant. Below is a list of some common problems as well as helpful hints for addressing them.

  1. Papers are late. Before the session, check  Mirasmart to see if papers have been posted for the session. The PAA deadline for posting completed papers is March 22, but some session chairs or authors negotiate later deadlines with their discussants. If the deadline has passed, and one or more papers has neither been posted nor sent to you, please contact the author(s) and session chair. It is the presenter’s responsibility to get the paper to you by the deadline, but you and the chair can help by reminding authors of their responsibility to get the paper to you on a timely basis.

  2. Papers are of varying quality. It is appropriate to acknowledge that the papers are at different stages of progression. If you note this in a developmental way, it is encouraging to authors. When critiquing the papers, please emphasize how they can be improved, not how they are weak.

  3. You have specific questions about the paper or a paper is not closely related to your research expertise. It is entirely appropriate to discuss a paper with the authors before the session. If something is not clear to you, please don’t hesitate to get clarification from the author(s) so that you can better fulfill your role as a discussant who provides value-added comments for the audience and authors.

  4. PLEASE DO NOT circulate papers and presentations beyond the participants in the session. Thank you.