Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 50, No. 4, 344–356, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This essay looks mainly at the reviewing and, to some extent, the editing of the writing for publication which most of us carry out as academics, educational developers, and through the range of our roles.
For this study, the author undertook email interviews with reviewers and editors involved with Innovations in Education and Teaching International (IETI) and several other academic journals publishing in the field of pedagogic research and academic/educational development internationally.
The research is based on an opportunistic sample of 10 international academic developer colleagues, men (2) and women (8) (from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada), who regularly review for the journal IETI and other journals focusing on research- and evidence-based HE teaching, learning, assessment and academic development professional practice.
The findings reveal tensions, richness, processes and practices. Some of the responses concern academic identity, some the relationship to the discipline, while others focus on the processes and the politics of reviewing and editing, the actual practice, finessing, justice and fairness.
Several themes emerge concerning the politics and practices of writing, reviewing and editing for successful publication which include:
(1) Publishing and the academic role: academic identities as writers and peer reviewers.
(2) Practice of reviewing: ‘tough love’ – reviewers balancing support with gatekeeping.
(3) Professionalising editing and reviewing.
Overall, reviewers see the process as one of academic collegiality and mentorship, enabling others to develop and hone their writing skills and also assuring the quality of the journal and the contribution to the discipline. Peer reviewing and editing are valuable stages which bring rigour to our work.
(1) Publishing and the academic role
Some respondents mentioned credibility, seeing publishing as self-motivated and defined and the reviewing process for the authors as a rite of passage, a threshold for acceptance into the academic role.
Being part of the reviewing community feeds into other roles, including doctoral supervision, and reviewers frequently encourage PhD students to engage to advance their own careers. Academic identities and communities of practice were mentioned in terms of the respect gained by staff members achieving publication, and the reviewers saw themselves as coaches, equals engaging in a quality control and developmental experience in a community.
(2) Practice of reviewing – ‘tough love’ – reviewers balancing support with gatekeeping
Respondents discussed theories and practices of how they go about the reviewing, which typically involves: reading the title, keywords, abstract and introduction, then the conclusion, first and then reading systematically through the whole, considering the quality of the research design, the argument, the writing style, and the overall cohesion. They said they look for innovative contributions to ongoing conversations in the field, which involves demonstrating appropriate knowledge of and engagement with the literature, as well as situating the new work within that literature.
They also said they look for the quality of argument, the match between claims and evidence in the data and noted they needed to have a sense that the author would be able to fix problems and revise the text to produce a piece suitable for that journal.
Respondents indicated that they consider the role of reviewer as a developmental one in itself, which helps to keep up academics to date and to learn about current academic issues: Reviewing is a dedicated, cognitive process requiring special skills and a sense of the importance of making a contribution to the academic community.
(3) Professionalising editing and reviewing
Editors and reviewers pointed out that contractual obligations at work sometimes pressurise the reviewing process and as editing and reviewing are rarely recognized in academic workload models, to some extent it is a gift reviewers make to the academic community, a peripheral activity, though one which is essential in the field. They are aware of the time taken, pressure and expectations in the process of reviewing and editing and the importance of consistency.
Respondents suggested that editors should have a sense of duty to the field in terms of consistency in the journal and contribution to the discussions in the subjects. They have, they argued, further duties to ensure that appropriate reviewer responses both ensure development for the authors and feed into final decisions on acceptance or otherwise, and they are expected to arbitrate between conflicting reviewers, offering wisdom and removing seemingly arbitrary judgments.
The author argues that writing for academic publication is a necessary and often personally as well as professionally rewarding route for researchers and practitioners to undertake, so as to ensure that the knowledge we construct is articulated and communicated effectively to others. The roles of the writers, peer reviewers and editors are essential in this process both as a nurturing community of practice, and as assurers of quality, of content and expression. As writers, peer reviewers and editors we work to enable the writing to be shaped and supported into the best expression possible for communication with others, and in so doing, we contribute to the flow of knowledge and the shaping of the expression and articulation of that knowledge.
The aim of this article is to offer further knowledge about the processes, intentions, dedication, focus and care with which peer reviewers and editors contribute to the academic writing community.