Why is peer review such a vital part of the scholarly book publishing process? Continuing our series of blogs for Peer Review week, Vidal Romero author of Security and Illegality in Cuba’s Transition to Democracy, and Series Editor of Violence in the Hispanic and Lusophone World, explains why and offers some tips and advice on how to make your reviews influential in improving the quality of scholarly publishing.
Why is a rigorous peer review process so important to you?
There are two great benefits of a rigorous peer review process. Firstly, it improves the final product by providing objective and expert advice on an author’s work. This is a great added value to any researcher. (Although, peer review also implies that authors should be open to constructive critiques of their work.)
Secondly (when the book is accepted for publication after a rigorous peer review process), it “tags” the research product with an assurance of quality that incentivizes more individuals to read it, and, more importantly, means that it is more likely to reach the “right” audience.
Why do you choose a publisher who invests in the peer review process?
Peer review provides a great added value to the research product and increases confidence that the book has reached a proper level of quality.
Publishing a book with a press that has a good reputation for rigorous peer review processes makes it easier to reach a wider and appropriate audience. This has a significant intellectual value, but it also has value for a researcher’s career progression, as it is much easier to demonstrate to your own institution that your work is being correctly disseminated, which is a key requirement for advancing an academic career.
What makes a good review?
A good review should be based on the reviewers’ sincere, objective, critical, and constructive reading of the manuscript.
Critiques should be linked to specific guidance on how to improve it. And such critiques should be feasible (e.g., do not recommend improving the empirics with non-existent data or with data that would take unfeasible amounts of time to collect).
The reviewer should be able to understand what the actual purpose of the manuscript is (e.g., is it a continuation of previous work, a focused investigation on one narrow topic, the first iteration of an original idea, etc.). Then, of course, the reviewer should assess whether such a purpose is suitable and worthy of publication.
Reviewers should be open to ideas that are opposed to their own positions. And then discuss whether they make sense or not based on evidence, arguments, etc. This is obviously not trivial, but necessary for advancing knowledge.
How has peer review influenced your writing?
It has had a significant impact. As an author, especially at the final stages of drafting a manuscript, many of my decisions are aimed at anticipating potential criticisms by reviewers. It forces me to be more rigorous with my arguments and my empirical tests.
Also, peer review provides me with the right incentives for exhaustive literature review and its direct connection to my work, which allows me to effectively engage in the construction and accumulation of scientific knowledge.
What advice would you give for writing a useful review?
There are three topics that I would recommend that reviewers consider. Firstly, when conducting reviews, think of the academic field as a whole and on science as a collective endeavor. It implies being aware that a specific book is not going to provide holistic and definitive answers to a research question but more likely an answer to a specific dimension of the topic with a degree of uncertainty. Of course, it does not imply that all answers should be published; it is precisely part of a reviewer’s task to decide whether the work at hand represents a sufficient contribution to our knowledge.
A second important recommendation to reviewers would be to ask for feasible revisions to the manuscript. It does not help authors or the discipline as a whole to dismiss projects that do not conform to our own ideals of what a proper research work should be, if such ideals are not feasible in the real world.
A final recommendation is to take the time and effort necessary for conducting a proper review. We are all busy with multiple tasks, and usually reviewing is not a priority in our agendas (for multiple reasons). Yet, we should also think of the many times that we have all benefited from timely and constructive reviews and, then, literally “pay back”.
Vidal Romero is Professor in Political Science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and Co-Director of its Centre for the Study of Security, Intelligence, and Governance.