Peer-Review, Part 1 of Many

One can’t talk about journal publishing without talking about peer-review. When heard, spoken, or read, that term elicits many negative emotions in authors. Fear of rejection, anger at reviewers, frustration with the process, insecurity in reading feedback, to name a few. There’s no way to alleviate that, but there are ways to cope. The Onion recently had an article that captured it well.

It’s not easy to read criticism, but the reviewer’s critique is meant to help an author improve his or her writing. If you read it less as critical and more as assistance to strengthen an article, it’s a little easier. What can be especially frustrating is not knowing how a submission will be evaluated. As each journal has different submission guidelines, each also has a different evaluation process. American Archivist provides their rubric for everyone to look at. In reviewing the information about Provenance, it motivated me to add our evaluation questions. Most journals provide some guidelines but few offer details on the evaluation process. I cannot speak for other editors, but I believe the process should be helpful, not a hindrance to authors. The more guidance provided to authors, the better the submissions will be.

Few people start as publishable writers; it takes years of practice. Right before I defended my dissertation, my chair showed me his latest manuscript which was covered in red markings and comments. At the time, he’d been a professor and writer for 15 years. As he told me, all writers need feedback. Going through the dissertation wringer helped me take feedback as intended: to improve my writing. Two years after I finished my dissertation, I had two peer review articles published, one in Archivaria and one based on my dissertation in Reception. For the latter, one reviewer pointed out that I tended to put my topic sentences at the end of paragraphs instead of the beginning. It was a moment of clarity and great advice that I continue to use in everything I write. My own writing has been much improved not just from the feedback from my own submissions, but through reading reviewers’ reports for Provenance.

Writing is tough, and revising based in feedback can be tougher. To start, an author should read through the reviews and take several days to think through the points before starting any revisions. Some are easy fixes, but some take a lot of work. Try to think objectively and not take anything personally. That’s challenging, as any author puts much effort into writing and it can take many, many hours of labor. The ability to take a step back to think objectively and not personally is a beneficial skill in any publishing process. After a brief time, go through point by point and start revising. It’s important to remember that you are not required to incorporate all the suggestions, but you should offer an explanation to the editor if you don’t. Always keep in mind the critique is for your benefit.

I plan to have several posts about peer-review, and I welcome questions or suggestions of points to address.

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