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March 21, 2019

Introduction to Peer Review Guide Published

Writing about web page http://www.plotina.eu/plotina-documents/

Delighted to announce that the Introduction to Peer Review I co-wrote last year has finally been published by PLOTINA and the EU. It’s, you’ll be pleased to know, a relatively brief introduction to the art, practice and ethics of peer review, with a target audience of post-graduate and early career authors. Naturally I’m delighted to see it finally available, and deeply grateful to Warwick’s Department of Politics and International Studies, and the PLOTINA Project, for asking me to contribute to it.

Peer review booklet cover

http://www.plotina.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Introduction-to-Peer-Review-Guide.pdf

Naturally, I retained the film rights and first refusal as to who plays me in the film of the book!

The booklet pulls on, among other sources, the wonderful contributions from last year’s summer school on peer review that I was honoured to be involved in facilitating.


October 31, 2018

Ghosting & Peer Review

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/peerreviewer

This summer if you happened to be listening to one of my talks about the importance of peer review, and the associated challenges around it, you’ll have probably heard me mention the biggest issue for me as a journal editor-in-chief: ghosting peer reviewers. A suitable topic for a Halloween post, I thought.

When we initially locate and approach prospective peer reviewers for Exchanges, part of the subsequent discussion is making them aware of the timescale within which we’d expect them to be able to complete the review. We’ve a nominal month set as standard for a review turnaround, as we’ve found that seems to have suited most of our reviewers and authors over the years. However, peer reviewing is not a time trivial task for anyone to take on, for example with have a a guestimate that it will take at least 5 hours to peer review a single Exchanges article. Other titles can put the anticipated commitment even higher still. This is one of the reasons why the COPE ethical guidelines for peer reviewers state, individuals should ‘only agree to review manuscripts for which they have the subject expertise required to carry out a proper assessment and which they can assess in a timely manner’ [1]. Unsurprisingly, this time commitment is why some reviewers we approach, decline to participate.

Nevertheless, from the outset there’s an expectation on reviewers once they’ve agreed to conduct a review that they’ll carry it out. Naturally, as an editor it is important to understand how real life can get in the way, with peoples’ circumstances liable to change without prior warning. That’s why you have to ensure there’s an accommodation for individuals who suddenly need a little more time to conduct the review or who might need to drop out altogether. This is quite understandable, and as a journal we have our share of reviewers who have to drop out.

For us though, a problem arises when reviewers run silent, deep and dark. Typically, we spot this when they pass the review deadline without producing their review, and yet also stop responding to messages from the Editorial Board. There’s a tricky balancing act here for my team, we don’t want to bombard tardy reviewers with too many communications least we risk wreaking our relationship with them. Yet, reviewers have made a commitment to contribute to our quality assurance processes that we’d ideally like to see honoured. To borrow a term from the dating sphere, being ghosted, ‘The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone’ [2] has never represented a favourable turn of events, in either life or journal communications. Certainly, being ghosted as an editor can be a deeply frustrating experience. Even more so, the delays it creates in the editorial workflow present a bugbear for our authors, who end up waiting far longer than they’d reasonably expect to receive feedback or a decision on their work.

You might think being ghosted by reviewers was a rare occurrence, and yet over my 6 months as editor I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spotted one or more of my editors having to deal with it. On some submissions it’s been known to happen multiple times. While, as I said, I can appreciate life is rarely straight forward, I retain an optimistic view that scholars would have the requisite professionalism to let me know if suddenly being a reviewer is no longer a task they can satisfy. I’m never offended by a big, bold and honest ‘No, I can’t do this anymore’, as it is far better to know for certain than be left in the dark. Yet, sadly, I have no easy solution to reviewers who choose to start ghosting the editorial team. Beyond that is, taking reviewers who fail to respond off our call sheets for future assignments, albeit a move I’m loathed to take, given the diversity and spread of our reviewers’ pool importance to myself and the title.

With this in mind, I was interested to read today about technological solutions for ghosting [3]. OJS, the platform we run Exchanges on, does have the ability to send automatic and manual prompts to reviewers [4], but perhaps we’ve not been using these as systematically as we could. Perhaps too, we could think again about how and when we send out reminders to reviewers. I’m not sure I have any immediate solutions to the issue, but it is one that’s going to occupy me for some time to come, long after the last pumpkin has been consigned to the compost heap!

[1] Hames, I., 2013. COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. Committee on Publication Ethics. https://publicationethics.org/files/Peer%20review%20guidelines.pdf

[2]: Illa, G., 2013. Ghosting. Urban Dictionary. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ghosting

[3] Hern, A., 2018. Ghosting Busters: why tech companies are trying to stop us blanking each other. Guardian, 31 October. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/31/ghosting-busters-why-tech-companies-trying-stop-blanking-each-other

[4] And authors too – authors ghosting us is also a problem


October 03, 2018

Peer Review Finalé

The final day of the PLOINA Peer Review Summer School saw me spend most of the day working with the delegates. In the morning I was contributing to a session alongside some other esteemed journal editors, where we each contributed our thoughts on the process of being a reviewer from an editorial standpoint. My session was a development of a talk I’d given earlier this year to some of Warwick’s STEM post-graduate researchers, but it was still fascinating listening to the other talks (from Professor Cath Lambert and Dr Joan Marsh) and hearing their different points of view. Even as an editor, I feel there is still so much to learn about the art and application of peer reviewing, all of which is very much to the benefit to my continuing quest of quality assurance for Exchanges.

After lunch, myself and the hard working event host, Dr Charoula Tzanakou, facilitated a session wherein documents from delegates underwent a live peer review by other attendees. The idea behind this was not only offering a direct benefit to those brave souls willing to contribute their work in progress, but also to cultivate an attitude of constructive but empowering critique from the delegates. Interestingly, one of the lessons which emerged from this session was very much the amount of time and effort that goes into making a constructive peer review critique. It certainly isn’t a trivial exercise, and I hope the delegates were all able to take on board that while it can be a challenging exercise it is also a deeply satisfying one. Satisfying, especially in terms of being exposed to new thought, but also in helping to shape scholarship and assist fellow scholars in the development of their authorial voice.

Over the three days I was in attendance, I was deeply honoured to have been involved in what was clearly a much needed, well-received and valuable summer school. My thanks to Charoula, and Polina Mesinioti, for the invite to participate and their extensive hard-work in organising and hosting this excellent event. That is, if the conversations I had with delegates were anything to base feedback on! I also feel I’ve learned a great deal about peer review myself, and will be spending more than a few minutes looking to apply this increased expertise with Exchanges and our practices. I also hope some of the delegates will consider registering with Exchanges as part of our peer reviewers’ network: it only takes a few moments, and there are so many benefits in terms of enriching your personal scholarship and contributing to developing the scholarly literature.


September 13, 2018

Handle with Care (Peer Review Day 2)

Day two of the PLOTINA Peer Review Summer School was a little more low-key for me. My only role today was to come along and help facilitate discussions during the end of day workshop, where delegates took the chance to review a range of conference abstracts. This was in contrast to the workshop I ran earlier in the year, wherein I got ECRs to look at anonymised paper submissions. I will confess, in the spirit of peer review, I think this afternoon’s workshop lacked a little of the meat of the earlier one. That said, it came at the end of a long day for the delegates, and I suspect it was more than enough for them to get a taste for the challenges of reviewing material. The light touch then, was probably far more digestible than my ‘mind bending’ challenging review.

Tomorrow of course, they’ll have the opportunity to review one another’s work in a little more depth, so I’m sure this taster session will have gotten them thinking about the whole process a bit more practically. I can’t confess that my contribution today was as valuable as yesterday, as the workshop was co-facilitated by a visiting education professor, to whom I must doff my academic cap in acknowledgement of their much greater knowledge in the realm of reviewing abstracts. Hopefully though, the few nuggets of information I chipped in were of value to participants.

I also hope they don’t groan too much when they see me turn up to talk to them again tomorrow – too much of a good thing, perhaps!

I did take away one really interesting thought myself – the idea that reviews should always be written ‘with care’, and consideration of the actual person on the receiving end of the reviewing process. Speaking as someone who’s had his share of acerbic review comments (pre and post publication), I would hope every reviewing academic would remember this maxim. Certainly, it’s an approach we’d strongly advocate to all our peer-reviewers for Exchanges. Critique not criticism, is the order of the day!


September 12, 2018

Peer review and critical academic writing (Day 1)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this week I’m helping to facilitate various workshops and sessions at the PLOTINA Summer School on Peer Review, although strictly speaking there’s a lot about Critical Academic Writing in there too. Today, I was providing input to an Academic Writing Boot Camp – a mildly terrifying title, which practically boiled down to a safe, focussed and supportive environment for ECRs to write while having access to expert advice. I was there to provide that ‘expert’ [1] insight, or at least as much as I can muster from within my professional editorial experience. It was a very enjoyable session, during which I spent a lot of time reading through one paper and making (hopefully) helpful editorial remarks on it. A kind of pre-peer-review review. I’ll be doing a lot more of that on Friday afternoon, where hopefully the event delegates will be bring more of their work out to share with me. I suspect, I may be challenged by how many words a minute I can read critically though!

I think, in terms of guidance for ECR writers, some of the lessons that came out repeatedly during the today’s session were:

  • Choose your journal as soon as you can.
  • It will help guide you in terms of style, layout, word limits and the like. Writing an ‘on spec’ article can be good, but it’s no use producing a 10,000 word masterpiece if your eventual publication destination only accepts articles up to 6,000 words in length. Editors can and will decline to publish submissions which don’t meet their basic requirements without them even entering peer review or considering their intellectual contents [2]. If you’re not sure if your article will be suitable for a particular title, contact the editor in chief or one of the editorial board, their contact details are normally online. They’re generally committed and encouraging scholars, who will only be too happy to offer a little bit of guidance in terms of potential suitability.
  • Word limits matter to editors and peer reviewers.
  • For online journals there is no longer any physical concern in terms of ‘page space’. This means articles technically don’t have to be limited in length, the restricting factor is the time it takes peer reviewers and editors to review and edit articles of increasing length. It’s the major reasons most journals continue to have such limitations – I’ve had more than one prospective peer reviewer contact me to check the article they were about to review wouldn’t be too long for the time they had allocated to them. Time, for us all, is a precious commodity.
  • Turning a thesis chapter into an article can be challenging.
  • The good news is, many a chapter makes for a great article. The bad news is, there’s quite a bit of work involved. To start with, an article really needs to exist as a single entity, that means you can’t rely on material that appeared ‘earlier’ in your thesis to introduce your research. Nor can you rely on work appearing ‘later’ in the thesis, although you can introduce that as ‘future/prospective work’ in any concluding remarks. Additionally, there’s a common error by ECRs of writing material in the wrong tense (e.g. this research will review…), especially when adapting text from an introductory chapter. There’s also the question again of word length as discussed above. Your chapter might be perfection itself at 12,000 words, but you probably won’t be able to use all these words. Then, finally, there’s the question of authorial tone: what reads fine in a student submission, may not ideally cut the mustard as a contribution to the scholarly literature. Writing is rewriting, remember.
  • Style matters:
  • Simply put, if you’ve not followed the style (in terms of font, layout, footnotes, location of tables & figures, citation etc) of your chosen journal, don’t be surprised if an article is declined for publication unread. Many editors are dealing with such an influx of submissions, they simply do not have the time to be bothered with trying to deal with potential articles which haven’t bothered to read and apply their guidelines. At Exchanges we’re a little more understanding, but I’ve still declined submissions which have made no attempt at all to adopt to our style. My advice is if you’re not sure about the journal you’re writing for, create a document using as simple a set of formatting as possible, to allow you to adjust the style to suit the journal. Better yet, find a target journal and see if they have a publication template you can use to write with – Exchanges does!
  • Engaging readers is key:
  • Building up aspirations and expectations in your abstract and introduction to a paper is great, and indeed is key to getting people to read on. Alongside that claim to originality and contribution to knowledge (e.g. what does this paper offer to develop scholarship, discourse, learning etc.,), there is a risk of either offering too much or too little. I’ve seen papers that make wonderful claims and get me really excited, only to discover there’s not much intellectual filling to gnaw on. Be ambitious in your intentions, but be prepared to deliver, because peer reviewers (and editors) will take a dim view on papers that don’t actually match up against their initial claims or assertions.
  • Clarity is everything:
  • Never assume your prose, narrative or explanation is clear. We all get too close to our topics at times, and fail to see where we’ve muddled an issue, obfuscated something important or simply omitted a critical topic. If possible, always get a friendly fellow scholar from a similar (but not exactly the same) discipline to give your paper a quick read before you submit as they’ll always be able to point out where they just can’t quite follow your reasoning. It’s one reason why developing a good network of peers from different disciplines is an essential skill for today’s ECR, I should add. After all, I’m afraid I don’t normally have time to review pre-submission versions of work to any depth, as I’m too busy reading actual submissions!

Now, as an ECR myself, is my work subject to any of these issues? Yes, probably every single one – I’m still learning and growing as an author myself. That’s what being a publishing academic or peer reviewer is about, being able to spot which of the common issues your own work has, and learning how to work around them to produce a more polished and scholarly piece. Good luck in your own authorial journeys, and don’t forget, that as a title dedicated to publishing ECR research, Exchanges more than most journal titles, is here to try and help new scholars develop their voices.

[1] I suspect my old English Language teacher would have died of shock through this revelation

[2] For the record, Exchanges will consider longer than standard articles, but only if you talk to me before you submit them.


July 17, 2018

How do I become an Exchanges Reviewer?

The question of how one becomes a reviewer with Exchanges is one I'm asked from time to time, and I will confess how this is achieved isn’t automatically obvious from the journal’s home pages. Anyone with a research background from a PhD student through to established professor from any academic or research institution from around the globe is warmly welcomed to consider joining our growing peer reviewer community. It couldn’t be simpler to join, as there are there are three easy ways potential new reviewers can register with us.

The easiest approach is to register yourself with the journal as a reviewer via the online form: https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/user/register. You’ll want to ideally use your academic institutional email here, as the Editors will validate potential reviewers before we use them, and checking email addresses is one of the most common starting points for this process.

As you create your account with Exchanges, you’ll have the opportunity to add in a range of research interests to your profile. These should ideally be both disciplinary broadly and specific, because when my Editorial Board are looking for reviewers, the first place we turn is to search on these terms. We don’t use a controlled vocabulary, so you are free to describe your research interests in any way you like. However, remember to add terms you know others are more likely to search on, alongside the more specific ones, as the Editorial team won’t necessarily be conversant with the more niche disciplinary terminology.

capture.png

Secondly, if you’ve already got an account with Exchanges but didn’t register as a reviewer when you initially registered, it is possible to sign up as one by logging into your user profile (https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/user/profile), clicking into the Roles tab and then checking the box for Reviewer. You’ll need to add in your reviewing interests as well at this point in the box provided (Reviewing Interests), otherwise we’ll never find you to ask. You can repeat this process as often as you like to add, or subtract, reviewing interests from your profile.

Thirdly, and most informally, you can contact myself or any of my Editors and ask to become a reviewer. It might be you’d like to know more about the process, and the potential workload, before signing up, and that’s just fine too. Myself, and my team, can happily create you an account, which you can later amend via the profile page as discussed above. The reverse is also true, as we do seek our reviewers in the wider academic world, via our professional networks, where we don’t have sufficient good matches within our own reviewers’ database for articles on various disparate topics.

There is actually a fourth way you can become a reviewer, and that is to publish with Exchanges. In common with standard academic journal practice, all prior authors with the title are considered as potential future reviewers. Hence, if you take the wise move of choosing to publish an article with Exchanges, don’t be too surprised if we come knocking on your door some time later to help us maintain the quality standards of future academic publications. Believe me when I say, your fellow authors will be especially grateful for the insight you’ll bring.

For more formal details about how we conduct and manage quality assurance, see Exchanges’ guidance for peer reviewers.

Oh, and finally, if you ever want to stop being a potential reviewer for us, while we’ll be sorry to see you go, you can either uncheck the box on your Role Profile page. Or alternately, if you want us to remove your information from the database altogether, then email myself or any of the Editorial Board, and we’ll delete your account.


July 02, 2018

Workshopping Exchanges

In recent days I’ve been asked to run two different workshops this coming autumn. Firstly, I’ll be likely contributing to a summer school on peer review and effective academic writing. This is quite exciting as it’s a development of the brief session I ran a month or so back for STEM post-graduate researchers at Warwick. Naturally, I haven’t even begun to start pulling the material together for this, but it will make for a great opportunity to firstly promote the journal to some future potential authors and reviewers. Secondly, it will once again provide me with a strong motivation to go back over my own peer-reviewing knowledge and the journal’s protocols with a fine-toothed comb. Benefits all round there.

The other workshop is a new development in the Institute’s Accolade programme for our research fellows. The brief is to run a workshop for a couple of hours around Exchanges and scholarly publishing. Obviously as Senior Editor (and a researcher into publishing practices) I could easily fall into a long discourse about publishing developments, but I think it would be more beneficial for the participants if I mostly hold off on that and develop some more kinaesthetic learning experiences. I’ve sketched out a session thumbnail for now, but I’ll come back to this in a few months as the ideas start to crystallise in my head a bit more.

Whatever happens, it is great to be contributing to training and teaching once more, whilst also spreading the good word about Exchanges.


May 30, 2018

Becoming a Peer Reviewer with Exchanges

I contributed to a very enjoyable seminar and workshop yesterday focussing on becoming a peer reviewer, targeted mainly at Warwick's STEM post-graduate researchers (PGRs). As I've been recently updating and re-formatting the guidance Exchanges gives to our peer reviewer community, it was a rather timely opportunity to talk with some emerging scholars about their own reviewing experiences. Alongside this, it was also a great opportunity to hear from some of my Warwick colleagues who are also involved in other journals’ editorial processes and research funding panel review boards. I’ll blog about my reflections from this part of the event, in a subsequent post.

One thing which came out of the event was a reminder that it’s not always obvious how to register with Exchanges as a potential member of our peer review community. Becoming one of our peer reviewers, is a role where we’re keen to recruit any qualified member of the global Academy willing to participate: from professors down to PGRs, all are welcome. At Exchanges, we often tend to use quite experienced reviewers alongside less experienced ones, which in some respects provides the same nurturing development we offer to emerging and new authors who publish with us. I certainly believe early career researchers (ECRs) and PGRs can often be most discerning and insightful reviewers. Their hunger for knowledge and relative freshness of exposure to aspects of the literature, often give them a keen eye for detail along with an excellent breadth of view. Having been peer reviewed by just such a community of newer scholars myself in recent years, I can certainly report the experience was a positive one; even if they didn’t always see eye-to-eye with me on aspects of my particular paper.

All of which leads me to the question: how does one register as a potential peer reviewer on Exchanges? Well, it’s a simple online process [1], as detailed below.

  1. Firstly, go to: https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/user/register.
  2. Next, fill in your details and click on the Yes, request the Reviewer role option [2].
  3. Then fill in the box which appears with key words of your area of scholarly interest. How you define this interest might be as broad as engineering, biology or cultural studies. Alternatively, you might want to enter a range of (comma-separated) keywords such as nano-scale processes, electrical engineering, materials science.
  4. Then finish off the required information on the form and finally click Register.

Congratulations! You’ve just joined the Exchanges peer reviewer community[3]. When we get papers which are in your potential area, myself or one of my Editorial Board will then get in touch to discuss a potential reviewing assignment. And believe me when I say, we’ll be very grateful for your contribution to maintaining Exchanges’ quality assurance and academic standards.

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[1] You might want to speak to one of my Editorial Board or myself, initially, to get some more background on what the role entails.

[2] Privacy notice: The Editorial Board will only use these personal details to contact you about new publications which you may wish to review for us, or to notify you of journal publication related announcements. We certainly treat any information you provide in confidence and do not share it with other organisations.

[3] Before we use peer reviewers the first time, the Editorial Board will review applicants, to confirm they are scholars. Hence, don’t be surprised if we follow up with you ahead of any reviewing assignments to ask for some verification of your status.


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