You want to do good work. You want your work to be published so that other scholars can read it and engage with it.
You’ve submitted an article manuscript to a peer reviewed journal or a book manuscript to a scholarly monograph publisher. You’ve received a decision and the reviewers comments. What now?
Your emotional reaction is valid
You worked hard on this. You went through several drafts. This is already good work.
Having your work rejected, even if there is still the possibility of sending back a revised version, hurts.
This is normal. Don’t make it worse by telling yourself you should be more sanguine. It’s okay to be upset.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that although you feel however you are feeling, someone took the time to read your work carefully and write comments. This is a person more or less like you. They have busy academic and personal lives and yet they found time to do this task.
One purpose of peer review is to improve scholarship.
That’s why you receive copies of their comments. If they were just helping the editors make decisions, all you’d get would be the decision.
The reviewers are specialists in your field. This is free advice. It could improve your work. It is wise to take what they say seriously.
They are well educated in your field. Their own path to and through this field of scholarship will coincide in important respects with your own but will also diverge in important ways. Both of those could bring new perspectives to your work.
Take it seriously does not mean do everything they suggest.
It means to seriously consider what they have said in relation to what you are trying to do in this article/book. It means using your judgement to figure out how these comments might improve your scholarship and this particular article/book.
That may require you to ignore the tone of a review. It will certainly require you to interpret the comments in the light of what you are trying to achieve with this particular piece of writing.
This is hard
It’s easier to say all this than to do it. I’ve now written a book that expands on this and other posts and provides prompts to help you process the emotions and do the practical work involved. It also has a chapter explaining what peer review is and another providing practical support when you are asked to be a reviewer. Peer Review (A Short Guide), published 15 November 2019. Available in eBook or paperback.
Think you’re your own harshest critic?… try peer review (University of Edinburgh DART blog) Guidelines for writing a peer review. Also helpful for judging how to respond.
Why I Love Reviewer 2 (Helen Kara)
Edited and recategorized Sept 24, 2015. Additional related post added July 28, 2017. Information in the last section updated 8 October 2019.