In Praise of Peer-Review

Can I just say that I love the peer-review process? Sure, it’s a bit cumbersome, and the timeline to publication rather long, but sometimes it’s enormously helpful.

I just sent back to the editors an article that has been through the revise and resubmit stage twice. At the first pass, the readers asked for lots of information I had no intention of providing; essentially, they wished I had written a different paper. I fussed about it for a day or two, and then decided to write the paper they were hoping for anyway. I think I kept 2 pages of the original 27.

Then I sent it off again and the anonymous reviewer, though convinced by (nearly) each point of my arguement, thought I didn’t sound very nice. So this week, I’ve been altering the article’s tone toward kindness. It’s tedious work, but as I do it, I’m struck by the accuracy of her judgement. Why do I bite so vicously here? Why state that so aggressivley? And as I seek to alter those moments–largely by crediting other researchers with building the foundations of my position–I’m finding more support than I had previously and showing a whole movement toward the re-interpretation I’m proposing rather than an idiosyncratic approach by some cowboy.

Finally, her one quibble turned out to have been a major foible in my paper, and I would have looked pretty stupid had it gone to print. In discussing five book-length poems from the 1850’s, I had misread a plot point (because the act isn’t stated, only implied by reactions). I re-read it in light of her note and it changed that section of my paper entirely.

I think it’s just dandy that when I have an idea about a poem, I send it to an editor who will then run my idea by the world’s foremost expert on that poem/figure, and that the expert will, if impressed, recommend publication, and if less so, at least give me feedback on it.

I can’t share what it’s about yet, since the peer-review process is blind (no one knows who wrote the paper they’re reading so that prestige or collegiality can’t factor) and if they google the topic (likely, since obscure) I don’t want to spoil things by bloviating here. But once it’s accepted (fingers-crossed) I’ll post an abstract of the argument here, and once printed, a link to the content.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process.