Peer review of my first (attempted) article


Three months and two days after I submitted the first article for my PhD to a journal for publication, I finally got a response from the peer-reviewer(s). It wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped.

The editor first pointed out that the article (written together with 2 of my supervisors) was interesting, well-written, and relevant to the journal’s scope, but then wrote about aspects that need to be addressed. These range from the framing of the article, to the methods and statistics. The reviewers’ comments were attached.

The editor then wrote “If you are willing to revise the work along the suggested lines, we would be pleased to receive a resubmitted version for review.” I’m not sure what this actually means though. Would the new version have to go through an entirely new peer-review that could take another 3 months, and possibly be rejected again? Or would it be re-evaluated by the same reviewers, controlled only for the changes they suggested? If it’s the former, should I consider sending it to another journal instead?

The list of changes the reviewers suggested, by the way, was several pages long! (As opposed to my last 2 articles, before I started my PhD, that needed only very minor changes.) They were mostly good points though, if I’m to be honest with myself. Some are causing us to look again at the basic assumptions of our article – can we really call this an intervention study? Why are we actually using Cronbach’s alpha to measure internal consistency, when information literacy is a multidimensional construct? Should we dwell on the point that IL is not unidimensional, and our evidence of this, which was one of the 3 major research questions in the article? If not, were all those factor analyses a waste of time?! Argh!! That was all I did (tried to do) last summer!

I was quite discouraged, needless to say, especially after all the work that went into this article, and the long wait for the response. All that effort cannot have been in vain! But after talking to Torstein, I have hope that we can improve the article and resubmit it to the journal. He says that this is totally normal – standard procedure.

I felt certain that the article was publishable when I submitted it. We sure worked hard on it. But maybe we became blind to our own thought-patterns and written words?

Quantitative research takes a lot of time and effort, between creating and piloting the measurement instruments, gathering the data (in many stages, with many different samples, in our case), analyzing and visualizing the data, and then actually writing the article.

This makes me think about whether the entire purpose of scientific endeavors should be to publish? Is that really the most important thing? After all, I have learned a lot doing this research, and I could disseminate findings at conferences or in my blog…

However, my PhD is article-based. I have to publish (or have ready for publication) at least 3 articles, in addition to writing the summary (kappa). In October I’ll be halfway through my 4-year period of funding for this project. I’m trying not to worry about not having published anything yet. This first article can be revised and (hopefully) published, and the second article is underway. And I have great supervisors (have I perhaps said this before?) who aren’t worried.

And now, onto the revisions…


4 thoughts on “Peer review of my first (attempted) article”

  1. I can only speak from my own experience as a researcher in the humanities; receiving so many constructive comments is usually a very good sign, even if they did not accept the article. And like Susan Nacey says, one definitely does not have to follow every suggestion as long as one addresses them. I will add that there’s a lot to be desired about the peer-review process itself, how bias comes into play, how slow it can be, and the publish-or-perish machinery. Hopefully we get to a point where what we have for our research is a mixture of pre-printing our work for open comments–thankfully this is happening more and more–, and post-publication peer-review, seeing what we do as a collaborative endeavor instead of competition-based. Crossing my fingers for this to happen, onward. 🙂

  2. What distinguishes scientific writing from other forms of writing is the fact that it is peer reviewed by fellow scientists. Science is always a conversation and there will always be multiple perspectives on any given topic. Welcome to the discussion! The more serious the journal, the tougher it gets. And when we get through it, the feeling of mastery is all the greater, and the likelihood of being read, taken seriously and actually used increases. So take this, just as Torstein said, as a totally normal part of the scientific method. As standard procedure. Revisions almost always make an article better. Thank goodness! Sometimes that means accepting that some parts are more interesting to others than they were to us, and turning the article a slightly different direction. Still, whatever gets taken out is still there for us to work with in other ways. It can be great background material for a conference or perhaps even a future article. All is good. And the process definitely does take time. Og du ligger godt an i det store hele Ellen 🙂

  3. Receiving so much feedback isn’t unusual! You just need to 1) take a deep breath and then 2) open up that feedback document & start working through it, point by point. You need to respond to each point, but remember that you don’t need to agree with each point! And if you thought the first submission was good– just wait— your revision will be even better because of this feedback & your revision! And all of this certainly helps you for your doctoral defense, helping you tackle critical questions and justify your approaches. Things will look up once you get working on it! Thanks for a great blog post!

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