What To Do When the Peer Reviewers Are Wrong

What To Do When the Peer Reviewers Are Wrong | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
Peer review is a valuable aspect of scholarly publication, and most peer reviewers genuinely want to help the authors and journals for whom they do prepublication reviews. However, peer review is not a foolproof system. There will probably be very few instances in which you, as an academic or scientific author, will not benefit from the comments offered by the peer reviewers who assess your writing when you submit it for publication, but not all of the feedback offered by reviewers will prove valid or helpful, and occasionally the peer reviews you receive may be completely inappropriate or simply wrong. It can be extremely challenging to determine what is helpful and what is not when you are reading feedback in order to revise your article for publication, and once that hurdle is surmounted the more difficult task of explaining to the editor why certain changes would be a mistake must be faced.
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It is important to keep in mind that news of this kind will be received in the best possible light if you are able to accommodate some or most of the changes requested by the editor and peer reviewers. The aspects of your paper that you can change should therefore be mentioned first, and it can be useful to indicate briefly how you plan to resolve those problems. Once you have demonstrated your ability and willingness to make revisions to improve you paper, you can move on to any changes that you are not able to make. You should give valid and specific academic reasons for why these changes would be inappropriate or even detrimental to your research and writing, remembering that a lack of time or inclination to revise is not a sound reason if you wish to achieve publication. Let us say, for example, that one of your peer reviewers thought your methods ineffective for obtaining accurate data for your study. You know, however, that such thinking was considered valid twenty years ago, but the most cutting-edge research now conducted in your field uses methodology like your own. You will need to explain this carefully, being respectful of the peer reviewer’s opinion at all times, but also referring the editor to recent publications that support your view. You may have even included a paragraph explaining the relevant development of scholarship in your area – something the peer reviewer must have missed, though it may not be wise to point that out. What is wise is referring the editor to that paragraph or to the new paragraph you have added to explain the matter and address the reviewer’s criticism.

It is best not to assume that peer reviewers are deliberately being misleading in their feedback in order to squash your publication. Yes, it may be true that the intentions of some reviewers are not what they should be, and scholarly territory, theories and assumptions are fiercely defended by some academics and scientists, but it is best to avoid that mire if at all possible. Be aware instead that well-established ideas tend to change very slowly, and if your research and your analysis of it are truly innovative and groundbreaking, many scholars may not be quite ready to accept it. Some may not entirely understand your work and others may not want to understand it, especially if it somehow undermines their own research, though even so they may not be consciously aware of stacking the deck in their favour by decreasing your chances of an influential publication. An effective way to resolve this problem is with information. Explain the situation to the editor and refer him or her to research that has contributed to your own and to any part of your paper that will help clarify the misunderstanding and demonstrate the importance of your unconventional work. If these strategies do not succeed, cutting your losses and moving on to a different journal may be the best option, but do be sure to take advantage of any truly helpful comments provided by that first editor so that you can benefit from the rejection by improving both your paper and your future chances of publication.

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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.



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