Colleague Ben Neimark at ODU recently asked me a tough question: “What makes for good (helpful to get published, strengthened,  intellectually creativity, etc.) peer review?”  I figured this might be of wider interest to academic colleagues, as well as those who see the entire academic publishing world as somewhat opaque.  So . . .

I think the challenge in producing a good peer review is to balance its dual imperative .  There is the part of peer review that ensures quality and offers constructive criticism (and I have received some in the case of my current livelihoods work – see here, here and here -, and have had some reviewers offer great stuff in the past).  Then there is the disciplinary policing that goes on through peer review, where reviewers don’t examine the quality of the data or argument, but simply argue against it because it challenges convention (which the reviewer likely belongs to or established) – see my comments about reviewer 1 at the bottom of this post.  This second function makes innovation very challenging unless you are very, very hardheaded (which I am).

In a nutshell, though, I think good peer review is that which looks at a paper for its stated aims and evaluates

  1. are those stated aims actually new and interesting and
  2. did the paper achieve the stated aims.

If standard 1) is not met, a good peer reviewer should be able to suggest where the real contribution of the paper lies – i.e. by suggesting literatures into which the author should place the manuscript.  If standard 2) is not met, the reviewer should explain exactly how and why this happened, and what sorts of remedial steps might solve the problem(s).  That is my minimum take . . .

I’m happy to hear the opinions of others . . .