Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Academic journal reviewers

In a previous discussion about my rejected article, I mentioned the idea of creating a typology of reviews. After thinking about it, I decided instead to create a typology of reviewers. I put them in alphabetical order, though my own biases will be immediately obvious.

Also, perceptions are important. I am willing to bet that most of us consider ourselves fair reviewers, while some of those we review would beg to differ.

The Admirer – a rare bird, but not unknown, this reviewer loves the manuscript and recommends publication with only editorial revisions. These are fun to get. If you do get one, then enjoy it while you can, because your next round of reviews may include one from Simon Cowell (see below).

The Contrarian – this type of reviewer explains how the entire manuscript should be rethought, reconceptualized, and rewritten. Unless you conform, your article is toast. These are difficult reviews to use, because you have only two choices: follow the orders or ignore them entirely.

The Destroyer (aka The Simon Cowell) – he is, of course, the insult-hurling judge on American Idol. I know a senior person (who I actually like very much personally) who shares the same mentality. These reviewers believe that bluntness is the best way to get through to people; if an argument is weak, then don’t mince words. Mixing praise with critique (a la Paula Abdul) may lead people to think their work is better than it really is. Instead, we should make sure bad manuscripts are shoved in a drawer forever. However, this easily crosses over into craven insults—I have both received and heard about the insulting (and even absurd) things reviewers will write under the cloak of anonymity.

The Scholar – by this I mean someone who is genuinely interested in the advancement of ideas and knowledge, and who therefore goes over the manuscript carefully, provides citations and specific examples when critical, and gives the author specific suggestions, even when recommending rejection. These suggestions can be greatly beneficial even in the case of rejection, at which point you need to improve the article and find another journal.

The Slacker – this is the sort of reviewer who likely put off the review until the last minute, or just feels too busy to bother much with it. They are generally very short, vague, and negative (the reviews, not the person, though maybe that holds as well). It suggests they glanced over the article, decided immediately it was not up to snuff, and scribbled out their initial impressions. They are singularly unhelpful to the author, who cannot make use of them.

The Unfocused – this reviewer focuses not on the main argument, but on other specific parts of the manuscript that interest him or her more. These reviews are generally easy to address, because they do not entail any wholesale changes.

7 comments:

Michelle 6:58 PM  

You forgot my favorites...especially likely if your article is quantitative, and also common at conferences:

The person who insists you include their 'pet' variable b/c it's soo important to their work even though it's not relevant to your literature.

And, then there's the "knows just enough stats to be dangerous" who question your methods without understanding them or offering a suggeted alternative.

Greg Weeks 7:02 PM  

Does "The Unfocused" categoy not do the trick? I meant that to include people who fail to see your main point because they are too focused on their own.

I'm not whether I've adequately covered your second point.

Michelle 8:49 PM  

Yes, unfocused works, but usually those that focus on specific points, but ones that are relevant, are easy to address. Those that focus on specific points that aren't really relevant and want you to write the paper they would write, are more difficult to satisfy.

Greg Weeks 1:47 PM  

The Quantitative Nitpicker?

Anonymous,  9:08 PM  

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Anonymous,  5:48 AM  

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