After two decades of submitting papers to journals, and more than 10 years of serving on an editorial board or editing journals, geography researcher Kevin Ward knows a thing or two about peer review.
Recently, as the editor of Urban Geography, he received a particularly “grumpy” and “obnoxious” review in his inbox, which got him thinking. Although, he says, the review raised “professionally appropriate issues,” it went well beyond the widely accepted content and tone. Ward, therefore, decided to reflect on his two decades of experience, and decipher the different types of reviewers and their characteristics.
In all, Ward — from the University of Manchester in the UK — says he’s encountered six types of referees.
Here’s the first, according to his recent editorial published in Urban Geography:
1.The “bitter and twisted” reviewer
Think of the unpopular kid at school, who used to sulk in the corner. Ward describes this type of reviewer as:
…this review reveals a reviewer’s sense of being out of place in their field, a situation with which they are not happy and that comes through in the review.
2. The “enthusiastic and supportive” reviewer
This type of reviewer is a cheerleader — of the best kind. It’s the type of reviewer you want. Ward says
…this review takes the paper at face value. It avoids ending up arguing for the writing of a different paper. Rather it works with what has been written, detailing how given these parameters the paper can be improved.
3. The experienced reviewer (whom Ward calls “In my day…”)
Every school has at least one teacher who talks about how great things used to be back in the day, when life was simpler, students showed more respect, etc. Science has those too, says Ward:
…the paper under review is used to speak on behalf of wider trends in a particular field. There was once a time, according to this reviewer, when the field was better, fitter, stronger and so on. Now the field is worse and this paper is an example of this decline.
4. The “it’s all about me” reviewer
Watch out — you don’t want to get the next type of reviewer:
…for some reviewers, the review is a chance to showboat, to use it as means of generating citations for their own work. As Spiegel (2012, p. 1334) notes “Referees not only want authors to cite their work, but they also want the text to laud it as well. Whatever the motivation—and we can all easily think of several— referees cannot directly demand others affirm their publication record.” He is right, of course. However, this type of review can come close to demanding that author/s cite the work of the reviewer!
5. The annoying reviewer
This type of referee would be banned from the soccer team (pun intended); Ward says this reviewer likes to engage in “goalpost moving:”
Presented with a revised paper and a covering letter detailing how the author/s responded to the original set of reviews, this review writes “yes … but”. It asks for a second set of revisions based not on the original paper but on the revised paper. The review has moved the goalposts, potentially resetting the review process.
6. The brief reviewer
Think of this reviewer as the student who stops writing a paper the moment he reaches the minimum word length. It’s someone who leaves you with “not much to work with,” writes Ward:
These reviews are short and very to the point. Whether they are negative or positive, the content is so minimal that there is relatively little with which to work as an editor. Often no more than a few lines, there is little explanation or justification for the decision.
Jokes aside, Ward finishes on a serious note:
…the next time you write a review think about how it will be read by an editor as well as by an author, not just on its own but also along the reviews of others.
These are Ward’s picks — what are yours?
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