Misconceptions About Anonymous Peer Review - From Outsider to Insider in Scholarly Publishing - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Misconceptions About Anonymous Peer Review
From Outsider to Insider in Scholarly Publishing
Writing as Professional Development

In the absence of direct experience with publishing, authors frequently have expectations that are at odds with the process. In a focus group study of doctoral students, candidates, and program graduates in three different countries, their ideas about writing for publication became more accurate and realistic as they progressed through their programs and worked with their faculty mentors (Jalongo, Ebbeck, & Boyer, 2014). Initially, however, the following misconceptions were commonplace.

Misconception 1: Reviewers should arrive at consensus. Many a doctoral candidate has grumbled that that their committee members did not give the same advice on their dissertation chapters. First of all, they chose to comment on different things—what one person said nothing at all about was the basis for a lengthy comment from someone else. At times, their recommendations even seemed to be contradictory and had to be resolved to the satisfaction of all. Negotiating these changes requires the student to first find out how wedded each person is to those recommendations. Expect that experiences such as these are a rehearsal for what is to come when manuscripts are submitted to publishers. For example, it often happens that, with three reviewers, one will recommend acceptance, one will recommend major revisions, and a third will reject it. Based on more than 20 years of experience editing a scholarly journal, mixed reviews often are a response to less-than-clear explanations on the part of the author(s). Stated plainly, a confusing manuscript generates confusing advice. Under these circumstances, it is up to the editor to decide what to do. If the journal has many articles awaiting publication and/or other manuscripts on the general topic, the work probably will be rejected. It will take too much of the editor’s and reviewers’ time. If the journal has space available and/or the topic is important and underrepresented in the publication, the editor may deem it worth the effort to revise and resubmit.

Misconception 2: Praise is the purpose of review. As newcomers to the world of text book publishing, two co-authors eagerly awaited the response of the four reviewers to their book proposal and two sample chapters. One reviewer was enthusiastic and recommended few changes, two felt that it had promise but needed revision, and the fourth did not support publication of the work. When the authors discussed the reviews, they considered the very positive review to be the “good” one yet, during a conference call with their editor, she said, “Reviewer 1 was not at all helpful in improving the work; we won’t use her again.” Bear in mind that the purpose of review is to strengthen the work. Expect that revisions will be required.

Novices frequently base their expectations for manuscript review on their experiences as students writing papers for classes. As successful doctoral students, they are accustomed to getting an “A” grade on their papers, so they anticipate comparable feedback on a manuscript submitted for publication. During on our combined nearly sixty decades of reviewing and editing, this has happened just a few times. Revisions are almost always required prior to acceptance, and in many cases, a final decision cannot be reached until the revised version has been reassessed. Therefore, the way in which authors respond to the reports of reviewers and to the editor can have a major influence upon the outcome. If editors invite resubmission, it means they expect to receive the manuscript back again by the deadline specified. Still, the majority of scholars withdraw a manuscript when they get recommendations for revision.

Misconception 3: Reviewers are coaches. Although dissertation committee members give direction, reviewers of manuscripts submitted for publication are, technically speaking, under no obligation to direct the writer in how to improve a manuscript when it has been rejected. Some may do this, in the spirit of colleagueship, but rejections typically are handled with a form letter. What reviewers are expected to do is: critique the work, assess its suitability for the outlet, and make a recommendation about publication. If the manuscript has potential, reviewers often will do such things as making suggestions about the organization of the work, identifying some particularly relevant research that has been overlooked, ask for clarification, or recommend additions and deletions to the manuscript. Usually reviewers are they are referring to a scoring sheet that includes criteria such as:

· Suitability for the audience

· Significance of research

· Quality of research

· Quality of presentation

· Implications for practice

The purpose of peer review definitely is not for others to “fix up” your manuscript for you. Reviewers will quickly lose patience and get irritated if an author submits a work that displays little familiarity with the outlet, is not well written, fails to conform to the guidelines, and contains numerous errors and it will be rejected. Seriously flawed manuscripts will be returned with a letter that wishes you success in locating a more suitable outlet for your work.