Tough Love or Peer Review: Part 3

I just finished an anonymous journal review and feel just a bit uncomfortable.  Previous posts on this can be found here and here.  I’ve only done a few of these in the past so I am still working on developing my writing style.  I would be very interested to know how others approach these assignments, especially when faced with an essay that fails to meet even the minimum requirements for publication in an academic journal. 

As mentioned in previous posts I have been the recipient of some incredibly critical reviews of my work.  In every case, however, those criticisms were warranted and the final published product was better for it.  That said, it can be incredibly discouraging when you open that attachment and find months and sometimes years of research and/or writing thrown into question.  I guess the trick is to take the long-view of your own work.  I am finding that being on the receiving end of the criticism is much easier than doling it out to someone else.  At the end of the review I found myself trying to balance my criticisms with words of encouragement; I wonder if it comes off as sincere or as an attempt to put myself at ease. 

As I said above, I would be interested to know how others handle these assignments.  My model is based almost entirely on reviews of my work by my graduate adviser and the few critiques I’ve received regarding my own work.  This is much too small of a sample.  Any advice?

2 responses... add one

You’ve described a particular subset here of the review process: the unpublishable manuscript. Some manuscripts can be salvaged and improved with a great deal of assistance, and others can be transformed into better work that sheds the old skin of the original. But some simply aren’t publishable, and in some cases the editor who sends it to you knows it and is looking for cover.

I think one must be direct and candid without being crudely (or cruelly) blunt. You need to set forth why the piece does not merit publication as is and why even anything short of transforming revisions would not save it. If one doesn’t do this, and one isn’t ready to do this, then one shouldn’t review anything, because giving things a weak pass because one doesn’t want to uphold standards violates the very premise of peer review (in no way am I saying that you have done this). Be flat in delivery and straight with the author and the editor.

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