Evaluating Other Scholars Work - 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

Evaluating Other Scholars Work
From Outsider to Insider in Scholarly Publishing
Writing as Professional Development

While meeting with a group of doctoral students, a professor suggested that, if they were serious about wanting to publish, they would do well to serve as reviewers of manuscripts submitted to the journals in their areas of specialization. One student wondered aloud, “But, isn’t that sort of ’the blind leading the blind’? Wouldn’t we need to be widely published ourselves before we started critiquing others?” While this might be the case if reviewing research with complex statistical analysis, there are many publications written primarily for practitioners that would welcome the insights of practicing professionals on the manuscripts submitted. In fact, the perspectives of a professional who is actively working in the field would complement the perspectives of another reviewer who is a widely published scholar. If you agree to review, you also will be given a scoring sheet or a set of questions to help you assess the work, so you will have guidance in how to review. There are many things to be learned from reviewing others’ scholarly work (Table 12.6).

Table 12.6

Benefits of reviewing

The work of reviewing others’ manuscripts can help you to:

Keep current in your field

Demonstrate acceptance of professional responsibility

Document service for tenure/promotion

Expand professional network and identify possible collaborators

Identify resources for teaching, writing, and research

Become an insider in the world of academic publishing

Apply critical thinking to critique of scholarly work

Improve your own writing

Stimulate your thinking about trends, issues, and controversies in the field

(Jalongo, 2002; Gonce, 2013; Randolph, 2009)

Activity 12.3 Self-Assessment of Suitability as a Reviewer

As discussed earlier, it is not necessary to be widely published in order to take on the responsibilities of a reviewer. Use the questions below to self-assess.

· Do you get work done and meet deadlines?

· Are you knowledgeable in the field? Do you strive to remain current?

· Are you willing to give of your time and energy, even in the absence of financial incentives?

· Are you able to judge work objectively?

· Are you committed to the goals and audience of the outlet for which you hope to serve as a reviewer?

· Can you identify with authors and provide concrete, helpful suggestions? Will you challenge their thinking and help them to write an even better manuscript?

Nearly all peer reviewers are volunteers. Although a commercial publisher might pay a small honorarium or permit the reviewer to select a free book from their catalog, peer review is largely a form of uncompensated service to the profession (Table 12.7).

Table 12.7

Guidelines for reviewers

1. Make sure you understand the assignment. Nearly all publications have a set of reviewing questions, guidelines, scoring sheet, or rubric. Follow them as you compose your review

2. Review the manuscript in front of you. Too often, reviewers talk about how they would have written the article, chapter or book. The review is not about you, it is about the author’s work

3. Provide a balanced review. Critique the work in its entirety rather than belabor one point. Do not make the mistake of writing three pages about one sentence in a book manuscript and one page about the remainder of the book, for example

4. Check your work for accuracy. Many times, reviews are written in haste at the last minute and reviewers don’t take the time to re-read. In one memorable example, a reviewer went on and on about the need for a glossary when the book manuscript included one. Sometimes, reviewers will take authors to task about careless errors when their reviews—if it had not been proofed by the editor—would have contained several careless mistakes

5. Provide specific feedback. Be specific about recommendations for improvement but do not “rewrite”. Even if you think the manuscript is practically perfect, you need to support your assessment with evidence. One reviewer, for example, pulled a quotation out of a manuscript and wrote: “I wish I had written those powerful words”

6. Be tolerant of well-documented dissent. It isn’t necessary for you to agree with the authors. At times, reviewers may allow their own philosophy or biases to result in a negative review. For example, a new assistant professor volunteered to review and was given a book manuscript to assess. She did not recommend supporting the book’s publication but, many years later, when prevailing opinions in the field had shifted more in line with the approach of the book, she concluded that the author had been ahead of his time. Fortunately, the author had found an alternative place of publication but she regretted her decision

7. Function as a content expert. Editors are most interested in an assessment of the content, approach, and marketability of a work from your perspective as an expert in the field. Some reviewers mistakenly approach a manuscript like an undergraduate student paper, correcting every spelling, grammatical, and typographical error. None of us is a perfect user of language, so the supposed corrections could be wrong. Most reputable publishers have professionals who do this and, until your work has been subjected to thorough copyediting, you may remain unaware of flaws in your own writing

8. Spare the author embarrassment. Raise the question, even if you aren’t sure about the answer. For example, one author had written that 1 year of a person’s life is equivalent to 7 years of in a dog’s life. The reviewer seemed to recall that this simple formula had been called into question, so she wrote, “Please check; this has been debated in recent years.” In another instance, an author wrote that “Tagalong” was the language spoken in the Philippines and that Spanish is spoken in Portugal—both are incorrect; it is Tagalog and Portuguese

9. Recommend relevant key sources. Presumably, if you are reviewing a manuscript it is because it is within your area of expertise and you may expect to see your work cited there; however, the purpose of the review is not to promote your own work. You might mention other, relevant work but it certainly is not a condition for publication that the author cite it

10. Respond in a timely fashion. It is customary to ask for a review within 1 or 2 months’ time. If you fail to do this, it postpones the decision. If you never complete the review, the editor will need to replace you and this adds another 1 or 2 months to the review process. Decline promptly if you have no intention of reviewing and simply do not have the time. If you have a conflict of interest or if the manuscript is a poor match for your expertise, just say so

11. Be tactful. If a manuscript is poorly wrought, go ahead and reject it but do not punish the author. For instance, one reviewer wrote: “This reads like an undergraduate paper”. The editor felt that this comment was insulting and took it out of the review comments before sharing them with the author. Strive to be collegial and helpful rather than treating review as a way to deliver harsh criticism with impunity