• On 13/06/2016
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Dear Academic Author

I take my role as a peer reviewer quite seriously. I actually find it a bit of honor that folks think I know enough to review. I always promised myself that when I was asked to review that I would do it as quickly and as thoroughly as I could. So here are some things that I do

  • I don’t put it off until the last moment
  • I read your work multiple times to ensure that I have understood it (and to account for  my own different moods or levels of energy or to get around my own bias/viewpoint–the latter is the most important reason I read things multiple times)
  • I make notes and engage with it in much the same way I do with already published scholarship that I want to use in my own work. This way I have a good sense of what you’re trying to do and I can see where it may work or not.
  • I typically write from 1000-3000 words in response to your work. Yup. I have only done one review where I wrote less than this range. And, sadly, it should have been a desk reject.
  • The words I write are intended, as Paul Heilker trained and mentored me, to be helpful in strengthening the manuscript.

All told, I probably spend from 3-10 hours on a review. But here’s the thing…and this is a hard thing to hear. Not every idea is a publishable idea.

Sometimes the idea is too nascent; sometimes it’s already been done; sometimes it is just too out there to be useful; sometimes there is no answer, or no good answer, to the must have “so what?” question (and the way that the piece is written, you may never get to it); sometimes the idea isn’t framed in the relevant literature and when you read that literature it will surely change the direction of it; sometimes you’ve written it in such a way that your ideas are buried and obscure that even after I do all the work above I still have little idea what you’re trying to accomplish; sometimes there are so many illogical jumps from point “A” to point “L” without the necessary steps in between that it’s hard to determine what is actually going on.

This is just a partial list of the reasons why I may reject your manuscript.

So why am I writing this? Because after hitting reject on a series of manuscripts over the last few weeks, I wanted to remind authors of a few things that will help make their manuscripts stronger and more likely not to be rejected out right.

First, read the existing literature. In tech comm, there aren’t a whole lot of core journals so there is NO excuse for a major work in the last 5-10 years to not be cited, and even more, not to be engaged with. To be clear, when I say engage with the literature, I mean that you need to have read it and be prepared to write about it and how it helps to establish the argument you’re making. That means you have to do more than citation drop it. Read my piece on the ethics of reading, which was in response to one by Casey Boyle.

Second, show your work. That means let the readers see how you moved from one place to another.  This helps make the argument cohere and it makes it so much easier to read. I shouldn’t have to guess about what a quotation actually means. You need to tell me what I need to take away from it and how it advances your argument. And speaking of sources and showing your work, it’s important that you do actually integrate evidence into your argument, and more importantly, relevant evidence.

Third, be certain that you explained your methodology. As a reader, this helps to frame the entire piece and helps me determine the legitimacy of your research. Without the details of your methodology (including method, practice, and ideology), I can’t make an informed decision.

Fourth, please, please proof read your work. And this isn’t just about typos or missing words, but about reading your sentences to ensure they are doing the work you need them to do. It’s no secret that academic prose can be cumbersome, but complex ideas can still be discussed in a language that I shouldn’t have to labor this hard over. In other words, good sentence construction is your friend.

Fifth, please, please, please, please do not forget to tell me why your work matters. Just because your case study is cool and interesting doesn’t make it scholarship. What makes it scholarship is that it advances the knowledge of the field by directly and clearly stating how it advances theory or practice.

Definition of who reviewer 2 is.

Finally, remember that you’re writing about something that you know a lot about. It’s likely that at least one of your reviewers will know something about the topic but not nearly as much as you. That means what may be obvious to you is not obvious to the reader. Your words have to make it obvious. This is the problem that I hear the most when people complain about reviews is that the reader just didn’t get it. Well, it’s possible the reader just doesn’t get it because your words didn’t make it clear what I was supposed to get.

While I have ranted about research a lot over the last few years, I do that because I love research, and I want the field to produce good research. I love seeing new ideas and seeing how they can be applied or used or tested. When I sit down to review, I am excited to get an insider’s view of the new ideas percolating through the field, and I want to learn something new. Please don’t make me be reviewer #2. I don’t want to be that reviewer, but that means you have to do your part, too.

So the next time you want to slam reviewer #2, please take a moment to determine if you’re the authorial equivalent.

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