Reviewing our review practices

Following up on Steven’s posts about reviewing, I wanted to pitch in with my thoughts about reviewing.

Conferences like AOM allow us to start reviewing academic literature fairly early in our academic careers (which is great and we should all definitely participate in this!! refer to Steven’s post). But the catch with reviewing this early in the game is that there is a high probability that we ourselves have not been at the receiving end of any reviews. And then the chances are high that we don’t know how reviews can hurt!! Hell, even good reviews can! In fact, whenever I get a review back, I put it under lock and key for several days before I have the courage to look at it. So, when a review is written insensitively, it can be especially damaging. And this problem of bad review writing is not just restricted to us novices – I have seen some good, reasonable, esteemed people write the most barbed reviews.

Whenever I write a review, I always think about what I would think if this were my paper and if I were to be receiving this review (I dont know if I use this simple rule that my parents taught me in my everyday life but I definitely try and abide by this when I review :)). There are some great articles on good reviewing that I read during my class on academic communication with JoAnne Yates. You may not strive for the ‘Best Reviewer’ award that OCIS confers, but definitely go read some of the articles that JoAnne had on her syllabus:

AMJ Reviewer Guidelines, http://aom.pace.edu/amjnew/reviewer_guidelines.htm

Allen Lee, “Reviewing a Manuscript for Publication,” http://www.people.vcu.edu/~aslee/referee.htm

Allen Lee, Editor’s Comments, MISQ, Vol. 23, No. 4, http://www.misq.org/archivist/vol/no23/issue4/edstat.html

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4 Responses

  1. Hi,

    My first post here. But overall, I do agree with the “Do unto others what you would like others to do to you” principle. As they say, what goes around comes around. Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn’t be critical or thoughtful, but there are many ways to say the same thing…it is our choice in how we want to frame it.

    My main beef with reviews (when I am on the receiving end) is not so much with barbed comments but more so with one-liners – good paper or bad paper… There is like zero information (much like Diet soda – zero calories). I rather like it hot or not. I don’t know … that’s my two cents on the topic of reviews and reviewing.

  2. Ah, good points.

    Also, when you are tempted to really tear up a paper because they have phenomenally wasted your time with poor logic, horrible writing, inconsistent arguments, and worthless results, remember, they are not trying to piss you off – quite the opposite in fact. So be a benevolent diety rather than a vengeful one and offer a helping hand.

    BTW, there is significant research on attribution about all this, and it’s really interesting. Basically, we the reviewers think the authors are morons based on what they wrote b/c its our only evaluatible source; as smart reviewers evaluating moronic authors we therefore feel our time has been wasted, that they are worthy not of our knowledge but only our contempt, so we blast them. Guess who was paying attention in social psych! 🙂

  3. I agree, it is commonplace for people to say that the younger the reviewer, the harsher and less useful.

    I strive to match criticisms not with empty compliments, but with fairly specific advice about how I think the paper could be restructured or improved. I know that the reviews that I’ve gotten that have been helpful have done that for me, so I try to do it in return.

    I strongly object to reviews that start with ‘this isn’t really my area, but …’ and proceed to bang on for a while about something that caught their eye and then trail off, never having grasped the paper holistically.

    So if I don’t feel competent to review I just apologize and tell the editor I can’t do it. They don’t seem annoyed, even though it means more work for their graduate student in finding another reviewer 😉

  4. Adrian — Welcome! Thanks for posting.

    I agree the most frustrating reviews are those one-liners. What could be worse? A one-word review.
    Even worse, a one-word review! It may be an “urban-myth,” but I’ve heard of a review that, in its entirety, was: “Okay.”

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