How NOT to Write a Review ?— An Author’s Perspective
Reviewing an academic article is a noble task and it is always encouraging for me to see how highly qualified professionals spend their personal time to volunteer for a task just for the advancement of science and research. They would take this additional responsibility to voluntarily review the research articles and provide the best possible **constructive** feedback to the authors. Here, **constructive** is the key because the idea of a paper review is to ask authors to take things forward and not discourage anyone from carrying out the research. Through **constructive** feedback the authors can reevaluate their research, redo some experiments, and improve the quality of their work.
At this point, I would like to give a disclaimer that this article in no way is a guide to write the perfect review, there are much better resources out there to learn about writing a perfect review. The point here is to present a perspective of the receiving end — the authors. The perspective is important because sometimes when there is this power of acceptance/rejection of someone’s work, some reviewers tend to forget the old classic saying, “with great power comes great responsibility”.
If you write research articles and often submit to conferences and journals, at some point of your academic journey, you might have experienced some **really bad** reviews and wondered “did (s)he even read the paper?”. If not, you have been lucky, but believe me, the winter is coming! In my early days of my Ph.D., I was convinced that such bad reviews are my mistake because I didn’t convey the story correctly. I remember fellow researchers telling me, “most reviewers reject the paper within 10 minutes of reading the paper”, or, “most reviewers reject the paper only after reading the abstract, introduction, and conclusion”. It didn’t take me many rejections to realize that IT IS TRUE! However, now when I am playing the role of a reviewer and an author, I wonder if that is RIGHT?
Graham Cormode, in his article, How NOT to review a paper: The tools and techniques of the adversarial reviewer, well defined such reviewers as adversarial reviewers. The key characteristics of an adversarial reviewer that are shared in the paper are:
- An attitude of irritation at being given a paper to review, as if this is a completely unwelcome intrusion into their time, even though they accepted the invitation to review the paper or sit on the program committee.
- The belief that it is better to reject ten adequate papers than to allow a subpar paper to be accepted. (Blackstone’s ratio, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Blackstone_ratio).
- The ability to find fault with all manner of common practices, such as giving references to Wikipedia.
- The unwavering certainty that their opinion is correct, and final.
Recently, I received a review that had all the flavors of an adversarial reviewer. So, why not share it with everyone.
I am pretty sure that as an author, you might have received much worse than that but believe me, it is NOT your fault! You did everything right. You were just unlucky to encounter an adversary in the system who happened to spend 10 minutes to review your months (if not years) of efforts. Please don’t be disheartened (especially the new researchers) by such reviews because the reviewer might have submitted the review just to submit the review because they accepted an invitation. Your work is not subpar just because one anonymous reviewer discouraged it.
The good news is, there are reviewers who put their time and effort to write detailed feedback that will help you improve your work, and believe me, they do fight for your contributions during the discussion phase. In my short career span, I have experienced both types of reviewers, so cheer up and try again!
To all the adversarial reviewers out there, please don’t be one because it benefits none. Scientific writing is about explaining the research, experiments, and the results. Every paper deserves a chance and definitely more than 10 minutes of your time. FYI, it might take you hours to understand the research work and evaluate the scientific contribution within the scope of the work. Having said that, if you only have 10 minutes, I would suggest using those 10 minutes to reject the review request instead of rejecting months of effort. Let science win over personal opinions and assumptions. Believe me, authors are fine with rejection, if you tell them “why and how can they improve it?”.