Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Really Would Like, Someday, to Recommend that Something Be Published

I'm sitting here working on my reader's report for a journal rather than doing things that are probably more pressing on my list of things to do, and I'm wondering whether I'm the meanest reviewer ever. Either that or maybe editors just like to send me garbage to read. I mean, garbage.

But seriously. Write better things for journals, people. Read all of the existing scholarship, and actually cite some of it in your articles. Don't include lengthy (and I mean, seriously, page-long) block quotes that you never analyze. Don't make up words. Don't use words that haven't been in common usage since the 18th century. Don't use sentence structures or organizational structures so convoluted that I want to kill myself. Realize that citing something that was initially quoted in a theory textbook probably doesn't make you look too awesome. Realize that it's just plain mean to the people who agree to read for journals to put them through all of the above, and that it makes people who agree to read for journals bitter and want to say really brutal things to you. So again, write. better. articles.

Because I really, someday, would like to recommend publication. Hell, I'd even like to recommend a revise and resubmit. Someday I would not like to think, as I'm reading an article for a journal, that my undergraduates should start submitting stuff for publication if this is the sort of crap that professionals - or even graduate students - are submitting. Someday I would like to think that reading for a journal was pleasant and a useful enterprise, rather than feeling like reading for a journal is a total waste of my time.

10 comments:

Belle said...

Crazy, you are magnificent. Would you consider reading for my discipline? Because the readers just don't not recommend. In fact, many of the books I've read lately on various topics just need a decent editor!

Victoria said...

Thank you for this Dr. Crazy. I have said "no" (not even revise and resubmit) to several articles recently and have begun to feel like I'm a horrible person. The authors don't seem to have done the most obvious reading in the field, and the primary source evidence is extraordinarily thin. But still I have some guilt mixed with anger about wasting my time.

Digger said...

But if you can keep the crap out of circulation, so that you are not later a reader for (and we are not later readers of) an article that cites and makes heavy use of the crap... then you have done us all a service.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

Dr. Crazy said...

What kills me about this is that I can't *imagine* sending stuff off in this kind of shape. And I couldn't imagine doing so even when I was a grad student. Do these people have no shame? Shame is a healthy thing, when it comes to an enterprise such as submitting stuff for publication, I think.

Firefly said...

I don't think you can be the meanest reviewer ever. I'm reading Men Without Art by Wyndham Lewis. It is scorching. On Hemingway, Faulkner, Eliot, Pound, Woolf, et al. I don't think you can exceed him. He doesn't just review one book or article but the writer's whole technique and world view. Ouch!

historian said...

I'm staring at such an essay right now, but there is a way to ease the pain. Try to figure out the source-- is it a grad student, maybe told by his or her not-my-problem prof to submit? In that case, you might justifiably be a gentle pedagogue (I'm certain that this is the case with the essay in front of me). Or maybe the person writing it comes from a part of the world where access to the latest scholarship is very difficult (happened to me once, too), in which case, you can be gentle and grateful that you aren't in their shoes. Or the person might have retired thirty years ago and this is keeping off senility, in which case, treat them as you would want to be treated at that point in your life (happened to me a couple of times). Or, they are a tenure track prof, in which case, they really should know better. On the two occasions when I have asked, editors have been willing to tell me which category the essay fell in when I explained that it would affect how I wrote my report. And when I was told that the submitter was tenure track, I could slash and burn with an utterly clear conscience.

Ann said...

I don't think that any reviewer should "slash and burn" any article submitted, let alone "with an utterly clear conscience." It seems to me that while I agree with you, Crazy, that the authors of these articles need to pull their socks up quite a bit, this is really a complaint to take to the journal editors or associate editors. They really have very low standards and/or no business sending you scholarship that isn't more polished.

The first bar that any submitted article clears is the bar called, "is this appropriate for our journal and is it of sufficient quality to send out to readers?" Editors/associate editors are supposed to read the stuff that's sent to them and then decide whether or not they want to ask for your professional opinion. I would write a brief but gentle review for the author letting hir know hir work isn't quite up to snuff, and then write the editor of the journal a polite but brisk note informing hir that you're surprised that you were invited to read such a slapdash creation. If these reviews are all for the same journal or collection of journals, I'd stop agreeing to read their submissions unless and until I was reassured that they were being vetted more aggressively.

Historiann.com

Dr. Crazy said...

To be fair, I don't blame the editor on this one. It's a VERY small journal, and the editor is a faculty member who teaches a full load (a friend of a friend, in fact). I actually sort of respect the fact that this journal attempts peer review in a legitimate way, even if it means I read some crap.

For more substantial journals? I entirely agree that the problem is with the editor not protecting me from garbage. I mean, it's their *job* to vet what gets sent out to reviewers. At the same time, though, I guess I do feel like the buck stops with the person who submits garbage. I'm not sure why I need to be kind or gentle with somebody who submits this sort of crap. Hey, if you send it out, you need to take what comes your way in response to what you submit. I give constructive feedback (even on rejections) and I don't just "slash and burn" - I don't think that's useful, and I don't think that it is really doing a service to my field. If I am specific and I note the very real problems in an article, I think that's doing my job. If you submit something that has those problems, well, you deserve it. For me, that's on the author, not on the editor, really. In a lot of ways, I see reviewing articles for journals like the work I do when I grade. The point is to give people constructive feedback. But if people submit shit, they're going to get a shitty review. That's not me being "mean." That's me giving what I've been sent what it deserves to get.

I guess I believe one "earns" readers reports just like one "earns" a grade. If you're putting yourself out there to be published, YOU are the one who determines what the response is.

(I'm going to note here that I've gotten reviews of my own stuff that have left me upset. But at the same time, if those people offered constructive advice, I took it. Because that's what the peer review process should be about.

historian said...

I suspect that there isn’t much difference in practice between my “slash and burn” and your “shitty paper,” but I could be wrong. There is definitely an undercurrent of feeling imposed upon when I have to deal with an essay from a prof with striking rudimentary issues that I don’t have with a grad student submission, and I don’t mind going an extra mile with the later. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but now I’m curious to know if that’s idiosyncratic. In any case, it would be nice if editors used more editorial judgment in advance.