Continuing our Peer Review Week theme, Dr Hannes Kleineke, History of Parliament; and co-editor (with Linda Clark) of The Fifteenth Century series shares his thoughts on making effective peer reviewing.
While it can be time consuming, peer review is an editor’s friend. At its best, it is a valuable part of the process of producing a scholarly journal. It helps the editor reach decisions on what to publish, and gives a publication credibility in the wider academic community. It can also be helpful to a receptive author, offering useful suggestions and helping to sharpen and develop an argument. In spite of the time pressures of the modern academic world, some reviewers are generously prepared to provide detailed reports that can run to many pages, and which greatly facilitate the revision process.
A prerequisite for this is a judicious choice of reviewers: most editors are also authors, and can tell tales of woe of having their work rejected on the advice of un-interested, less than knowledgeable or simply dyspeptic readers, or of reviewers keen to defend their own positions and arguments. I will always cherish a report which started ‘While I am not an expert in the field of this paper…’. A committed editorial board covering a broad range of angles and subject areas is thus a distinct bonus, particularly when populated by scholars who are genuinely committed to taking their subject forward and are open to new ideas and avenues of inquiry.
But successful peer-review is a two-way process: for it to work, reviewers need to be prompt and helpful, but authors also need to be receptive, and prepared, where necessary, to adjust their work. And of course, with the best will in the world and not all submissions are up to the required standard, or have flaws that can be easily remedied. In these circumstances, a reviewer needs to be prepared to bite the bullet and use the veil of relative anonymity provided by a double-blind review process (as transparent as this can in practice be in a narrow field of specialism) to tell an author the harsh truth, and invite them to start again, or at least make major changes to their work.