I forget why, but before Christmas I was thinking a bit about reviewing and how it fits into my academic-life (I’m aware that was 6 months ago…). I know people have fairly mixed feelings about reviewing, as reviewers, authors, and ‘consumers’ of peer-reviewed content (i.e. academics, and generally not the public – because it’s too damned expensive). Certainly there are things that could be improved (the tweet below is a nice example of one for authors and reviewers!)
Dear authors, Please insert your figures in the text instead of at the end of your manuscript, journal guidelines be damned. -Reviewers
— Jonathan Peelle (@jpeelle) January 2, 2015
Generally though I feel fairly positive about the system, I’ve had some unpleasant experiences including at least one review the editors should have filtered out, and some less helpful reviews, but generally reviews are (as you’d hope) reasonable and helpful. Even comments I’ve disagreed with, I could understand, and were (generally) respectfully expressed.
As I’ve managed to review as a PhD student (which I think not everyone does) I’d encourage other PhD students to try and do the same. I think I’ve been asked to review (and I typically say yes) for journals (excluding conferences/workshops) about 1 paper every couple of months. I think some paths to make that more likely are:
- Ask, or make it clear you’re up for it – the first two reviews I did were through personal contacts who (unsolicited) invited me to review. The links below indicate this is not uncommon.
- Submit papers, this puts your contacts and interests on the journal account (even if the paper is rejected),
- Sign up to review, for some journals and more conferences (can be an option to tick when you submit something) it’s possible to create an account an indicate you want to review – even posters get reviewed
The things I get out of this are:
- I get to read other people’s work, which gives me insight into the range of topics being explored, and stylistic differences in people’s writing
- I get to read other rough work, which can be a great comfort(!) to someone who doesn’t always write terribly polished prose. It can pose interesting problems trying to ‘tease out’ the key points from someone else’s writing, at a stage where the writing can still be restructured, and then working out what advice to give.
- I have to think about how to critique, do it respectfully, and often this involves me doing at least a bit of research myself (depressingly, just a basic search for the title keyterms throws up apparently very relevant material, or worse – and again, not uncommon – I can think of missing papers off the top of my head)
- At some journals (but irritatingly, not all journals) once all the reviews are in the editor will (anonymously) share the entire ‘review letter’, with their comments and the full set of reviews. This gives me opportunity to read other people’s reviews, many of whom will be more expert than me, have identified somewhat different issues, or (just as interesting) identified them in different ways, and perhaps made different suggestions. Of course sometimes (often even) other reviews won’t have spotted some things you did identify – and you can consider various reasons why that might happen (some of which are positive, some might be less so). I find this part of reviewing very rich.
- It’s an important contribution – our system, whatever you think of it, runs on people being prepared to give up their time to review papers. People need to sign up for that to work! (And, it’s nice on the CV).
One of the weird things about reviewing is, as far as I know, it’s fairly hard to find exemplar reviews to mirror. So, if your own experience of having work reviewed is limited, and it’s an earlier review for you, you might only get a good idea what other’s reviews look like if the journal shares the other reviewers’ comments (and to my irritation, not all journals do). More generally though, there is some nice advice on writing a review (I pretty well follow the first of these) available, including:
- How to write a peer review for an academic journal, six steps from start to finish – phd2published
- How to become good at peer review – peerJ
Academic Peer Reviewing as a Graduate Student – Inside Higher Ed
- 10 tips from an editor on undertaking academic peer review – Elsevier
- Elsevier editors share their top reviewing tips – Elsevier