The author’s side of peer review

by Kristin Hoffmann
Associate Librarian, University of Western Ontario

In the last few months, Brain-Work has featured two discussions of peer review: How to be an effective peer reviewer and Peer reviewing as a foundation of research culture, both aimed at librarians who might be serving as reviewers. In this post, I want to look at peer review from the perspective of the author who is reading and responding to peer reviewers’ feedback.

I get butterflies in my stomach every time I see the subject line in my inbox announcing an email that contains reviewer comments. Reading reviewer feedback feels like the closest I come these days to getting a grade back on a test or an essay, and I still desperately want that A. What I have increasingly come to realize is that reviewers’ feedback isn’t going to determine my final grade in the course, and that it can really be a process of giving supportive and formative feedback.

Here are some suggestions I have that will hopefully make the process of reading and responding to peer review feel less daunting and more supportive:

1. Ask someone else to read your paper before you submit it. It’s always a good idea to get a fresh perspective on your work. Also, getting feedback from someone you know will help prepare you for getting more feedback from the reviewers.

2. When you get the reviewers’ comments, particularly if they include lots of suggestions for revision, let yourself complain and vent about it – for a day. Then put the complaining behind you and move on.

3. Remember that the reviewers’ feedback is intended to improve your paper. Read it with that in mind. In my experience, reviewers have always provided at least one helpful suggestion. (Exception: a review that says simply “this was terrible and shouldn’t ever be published.” That review isn’t going to improve your paper, so go ahead and complain about that terrible review that should never have been written, and then move on.)

4. You don’t necessarily need to take all of the reviewers’ suggestions or address all their questions. The reviewers don’t know your research as well as you do, and it may be that their suggestions would change the focus of your paper beyond what you intended. It could also be that they’re asking for changes because they didn’t clearly understand your intent as you had presented it in the paper—and that should be a sign to you that you need to change something, even if the change is perhaps not exactly what the reviewers asked for.

5. Stay in contact with the editor. Let them know that you are working on changes. If the editor had sent a “revise and resubmit” decision and you’ve decided not to resubmit, let them know that too. Ask the editor for advice if the reviewers’ suggestions aren’t clear, or if the reviewers have provided conflicting suggestions.

For more advice about reading and responding to peer review, the following offer more good suggestions:

Annesley, Thomas M. 2011. “Top 10 Tips for Responding to Reviewer and Editor Comments.” Clinical Chemistry 57 (4): 551–54. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2011.162388.

McKenzie, Francine. 2009. “The Art of Responding to Peer Reviews.” University Affairs.

The Open Source Paleontologist. 2009. “Responding to Peer Review.”

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.