Sunday, June 10, 2007

Peer Review

Another day, another book (and another language, too). I managed to skim this one rather efficiently, get the page and a half of notes that might be useful, and move on.

Another task I've been working on over the past few weeks has been my first-ever peer review of the work of another scholar. This one is a would-be journal article, written by someone in my subfield. Said subfield is small enough that I'm fairly sure I know who wrote it -- a relatively recent graduate of a well-regarded doctoral program who I think has an interesting project overall. The topic of the article was close enough to my own that I accepted the request to review it gladly, thinking that I could actually gain a new perspective on my own work.

Here's the issue: the piece needs work, and I've been agonizing over the most helpful way to construct my comments. The knowledge that I will soon (relatively speaking, of course) be submitting my book manuscript for make-or-break peer review has made me hyper-aware of the importance of the review process. Up until now, I had only seen reviewing from the reviewee's side of the fence, and have had the typical reactions to revise-and-resubmit verdicts: 1) initial irritation; 2) grudging decision to suck it up and make the changes; 3) realization that the reviewer's comments were mostly on-target, and that my article was better for having followed their suggestions.

Now, however, I see that there's an element to the reviewer's side of things that I hadn't considered before. Reviewers want to see good pieces in print, and genuinely want problematic articles (or books) revised to the point where the author won't be embarrassed by them. Reviewers also have a personal stake in the process: by putting a seal of approval on a particular article or book, we are putting our own reputations as credible judges of scholarship on the line.

So, I wrote a probably-too-detailed critique of this particular piece I'm reviewing, but tempered it with lots of encouragement. I probably went a bit overboard on both counts, but I'm sending it off soon, with hopes that the author takes it in the spirit it was meant. And to any past reviewers of my articles who I may have grumbled about: I get it now. Thank you.


SourDad said...

It was sooo enlightening the first time I was on the other side of the manuscript. It really helps the writing, and the experimental design (if you're that kind of prof).

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I don't do experimental design -- my equivalent is organization of argument, I guess. What I found really interesting was that the things that put me off most about this article were things that I recognize as weaknesses in my own writing.