The Review Process

peer review

Peer Review is a central feature of traditional academic publishing. All respected journals function within this process, in which articles are accepted for publication upon the recommendation of peers, as opposed to a top-down decision by an editor. The purpose is to maintain ethical submission practices and competitive acceptance standards.

Who are the reviewers?

Many journals have peer review boards comprised of a lengthy list of well-published and respected scholars in the field. The members are sometimes listed on journal websites and in the frontmatter of hardcopy issues. Some editors employ readers who are not explicitly associated with the journal, but can be called upon as experts for occasional reviews.

How it works

When an article is submitted, an editor may make a "first cut," and if the piece is considered a possibility for publication, he/she will send it out to at least two readers. The reviewers will reply with one of the following suggestions:

  1. Accept with minimal editing
  2. Suggested changes
  3. Conditions for publication
  4. Rejection

The editor will compile the responses from all readers and make a decision as to how to proceed. At this point, you will receive a letter explaining the outcome. If your piece is accepted as "revise and resubmit," you will get a report of modifications, suggested changes and/or conditions for publication recommended by the reviewers.

Blind peer review

This is the most rigorous review method. If a journal conducts the process this way, they will say so in the guidelines. It essentially means that the reviewers will not have access to your name as they assess the work, and you will never know who read your article. This process means for the greatest fairness in publishing. You can rest assured that your paper will be judged on the quality and importance of the argument and its relevance to the journal, and not where you're working now, where you earned your degrees, or who you know.

Resources:
Refereed Journals
Robert E. Kennedy Library's Peer-Reviewed or Refereed Journals

Revise and Re-submit
Revise and resubmit is exactly what it sounds like. During peer review readers have essentially four options for responding to your work.

  1. Accept with minimal editing
  2. Suggested changes (revise and resubmit)
  3. Conditions for publication (revise and resubmit)
  4. Rejection

What is it?

During the peer review process, some readers might have suggestions for improvement. If the consensus is that your work is strong and well-suited for the journal but in need of work, they may recommend that you revise and resubmit your work. The editor's job is to compile the comments from the reviewers and send you a set of specific suggestions, with the belief that if you follow them, your paper will be publishable. Sometimes journals will require that the author make changes as a condition for publication. Following the suggestions doesn't guarantee publication, but it makes it pretty likely.

What kind of changes are we talking about?

"Revise and resubmit" can involve some fairly extensive revisions. The editors will send it back to you, most likely, with somewhat significant changes to the content of your paper. For example, they might ask you to incorporate a theory, example, or case study. Or, you might be asked to rethink a part of your argument due to a logical problem. A common revision request is to clarify your points. In other words, "revise and resubmit" is rarely about style, prose, or correctness, although, you might be asked to make surface-level changes as well.

Rule of thumb: do what they say

It is generally wise to take the advice/conditions offered by the reader/editor very seriously. They have been given the job of "editor" because they know everything there is to know about the arguments in the field and how to craft a strong article. If an editor has taken the care to ask for changes, accept that as a significant compliment; an expert sees true potential in your work. Try not to get defensive and remember what's at stake: a publication! What they ask of you is usually reasonable and almost always results in a better article. Needless to say, if you vehemently disagree with the suggestions, you are free to move on to another journal. If you do choose to resubmit, you are still not guaranteed publication; the paper will go through a brief review again, probably by the editor.

FYI: Just in case you're wondering, in the world of academic publishing, it is extremely rare for an editor to make changes to your writing on his/her own. If your work is accepted for publication you will receive a final copy that will have minor changes marked for your approval. So, don't worry about your writing getting rearranged without your consent.