When I talked to Katherine Firth, one of the things that came up was the frustration that comes from the writing process taking longer than expected. (The link goes right to the bit of the video where we talk about this.) This happens at all stages of the process because all academic writing projects are long term projects. However, it has a particular flavour when it comes to peer review and receiving your comments.
As I’ve said before, the driving principle behind this new Short Guide is that peer review is an editorial process. The principle of academic freedom means that unlike other types of publishing, where professional editors provide editorial comments that guide the author’s revisions, in scholarly publishing the editorial function is performed by author academic authors in your field. But it’s still the same process.
Academic culture tends to downplay the role of editors.
We call it something else, like “feedback” or “peer review” or “supervision” or “mentoring”, which can make it feel optional, a necessary evil, or something we only need as a student or in our early career. You may have experienced reviewers, supervisors, or mentors who resented editorial work and made you feel bad about needing this kind of input (see Melissa Dalgliesh “On Learning to Love Being Edited”). And, as Katherine pointed out in our discussion, as a student you don’t get this opportunity to improve your work based on feedback and get graded only on the post-feedback version. (Though there are many discussions about grading and how we teach that are aimed at changing that. Talk to the folks in your centre for teaching and learning or faculty development office, and look for scholarly articles on standards based grading, formative assessment, and formative feedback.)
You are no longer a student. (Even if you are still a PhD candidate, you are in a transitional phase between student and scholar.) Submitting your work for publication is one of the “scholar” activities. Being edited, both by colleagues prior to submission to ensure that you are submitting your best work and by peer reviewers and editors after submission, is part of the process.
When you submit your best version of the manuscript to a journal or book publisher, you are about 80% there.
As Katherine said, 100% is published. You need to anticipate that manuscript coming back to you with editorial comments. You need to anticipate allocating time to read those comments, make decisions about how to address them, and then do the work necessary to revise your manuscript based on those comments. That work may involve reading more literature, reanalysing your data, or even collecting more data. It will almost certainly involve revising sections of the manuscript to make them clearer to your intended audience (of which your reviewers and editor are a part). Having to do these things does not mean your initial submission wasn’t good enough or that you are not an excellent researcher. Being edited is part of the scholarly writing process.
You will still be frustrated at how long it takes. You will be particularly frustrated at how little control you have over how long it takes between submission and receiving your editorial comments. (I wrote about that here: The frustrations of peer review: Why is it taking so long?) You may still be angry, confused, and discouraged when you read the comments. Do not add to that frustration by telling yourself that being edited shouldn’t be necessary. When you are making commitments for other projects, make sure you take into account the projects that will come back for revision (usually with a relatively short deadline). You may not know when, but you can allow slack for those projects in your estimations of when you can deliver other projects.
On the days when you are the peer reviewer (or supervisor, mentor, or colleague providing pre-submission comments), you can also remember that you are doing essential labour, rewarded primarily through diffuse reciprocity. You can help make response times quicker. You can ensure that your feedback is constructive, while maintaining rigorous standards. This is why my new Short Guide, Peer Review, provides practical guidance for reviewers as well as authors.
You, as author and reviewer, can contribute to an academic culture that treats being edited as normal and necessary.
This article was original sent to my newsletter on 8 November 2019 as part of a series related to the launch of Peer Review (A Short Guide).