Peer Reviewers are People Too…and Generous Scholars as Well
Given the stiff competition for publication space in top-tier journals, it is little wonder that many academic and scientific authors tend to think of the peer review process as tantamount to running the gauntlet. Whether long or short, a manuscript prepared for submission to a scholarly publisher represents an enormous investment – in time, money and intellectual effort, to be sure, and in most cases in other ways as well, such as the sacrifices made in other aspects of a researcher’s life. Confidence is a necessary requisite to submitting writing for publication, and that same confidence whispers the sounds of success in the ear of an author amidst the doubts of awaiting a reply. Less than ideal news from an acquisitions editor therefore tends to be extremely unwelcome, and the blow delivered by such news generally comes with the spectre of still more investment and sacrifice, while leaving a dent in that confidence so necessary to success.
The scenario I have described is unlikely to inspire a positive attitude toward the peer reviewers who find problems in a manuscript, and all the more when those problems prevent publication. It is therefore essential to stand back and view the situation from as objective a perspective as possible before replying to the editor. One viewpoint that should certainly be considered is that of the peer reviewers who evaluated your manuscript. In most cases the review process will be blind, so you will not know the identity of the reviewers, but there can be telltale signs in the comments you receive. Language and focus can, for example, reveal something about the specialisation and theoretical background of a reviewer. Using such clues to learn about your critic can help you understand why he or she may have responded in the ways you are encountering, and such understanding can help you devise remedies that will address the concerns of both the reviewer and the editor.
Equally important, however, is remembering that the peer reviewers assessing your writing are people and scholars just as you and your colleagues are. Indeed, they are your colleagues, and they too struggle with excessive demands on their time. In the grand majority of cases, peer reviewers do not need to be reading and commenting on your writing at all. They do it for a variety of reasons, including keeping abreast of recent scholarship in their areas of specialisation and contributing to the sound advancement of knowledge by working to uphold academic and scientific standards. Yes, there are benefits of various kinds for them, but their work also benefits you as a reader and researcher and your discipline as a whole. For the most part, peer reviewers are experts who perform an invaluable service for scholarly publication, and their generosity in sacrificing their time and sharing their knowledge and experience to help you improve your research and writing should be recognised as you reply to the editor and work at revising your manuscript for resubmission.
Being no more than human, however, peer reviewers are certainly as prone to inappropriate responses as a scholarly author might be when he or she first reads their unwelcome criticism. It would be folly to deny that some reviewers judge manuscripts harshly for selfish and even unethical reasons – due to personal grudges, for instanc
e, or a desire to dominate the field in which you are attempting to plant your research. While it is essential to be aware that such practices exist and to possess an honest assessment of your own work so that you can judge when your scholarship is not the real issue, it is always wise to begin by assuming an honest intent in the peer reviewers who evaluate your work, even if you may never entirely agree with their perspectives. Such an assumption can enable you to reread and reassess your own writing in a way that a suspicion of an insincere intention in your reviewers never can – a way that leads to true improvements and thus better scholarship. Remember that you, like your peer reviewers, want the plants in your field to remain strong and productive, and authors and reviewers must work together despite their differences to achieve that goal.
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Our scientific editing services for the authors of a wide variety of scientific journal papers are especially popular, but we also offer manuscript editing services and have the experience and expertise to proofread and edit manuscripts in all scholarly disciplines, as well as beyond them. We have team members who specialise in medical editing services, and some of our experts dedicate their time exclusively to PhD proofreading and master’s proofreading, offering research students the opportunity to improve their use of formatting and language through the most exacting PhD thesis editing and dissertation proofreading practices. Whether you are preparing a conference paper for presentation, polishing a progress report to share with colleagues, or facing the daunting task of editing and perfecting any kind of scholarly document for publication, a qualified member of our professional team can provide invaluable assistance and give you greater confidence in your written work.
If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.