Tuesday, June 27, 2006

what I've learned from my reviewers

Today is another day of futzing around with edits on a paper. I got my big paper submitted this morning - although I had some problems with the pdf conversion process - so at least that's off my desk. But then, simultaneously with hitting the submit button, I got comments back on another manuscript. This one is a confererence proceedings paper that I submitted in January 2005 based on a grant report written in April 2004. It's frustrating that things have been so slow and I know there's no chance of the proceedings being published this year. But, of course, they still want the edits back within a week. Fortunately this time, they are relatively cosmetic.

But over the course of these two papers, I've learned some important things about the review process.
  1. Reviews can tremendously improve the manuscript. I guess that's the whole point.
  2. An individual reviewer can have a profound effect on the final wording and content of the paper. Everybody brings their own biases to the table - in terms of what is controversial or not, what needs detailed explanation or just a reference, etc. And, in the end, your manuscript reflects not only your own views and findings, but some piece of the reviewers' as well. See #2 as a corrolary.
  3. While it is helpful to both you and the editor to make recommendations of reviewers, be very very careful who you ask for. One of my reviewers has worked in the same geographic region using some of the same techniques, yet comes from a very different scientific starting point as me. (i.e., same types of data collected, but analyzed differently for very different reasons). This caused me literally a month of headaches, as I dealt with his/her comments.
  4. Some battles are not worth fighting. If you are going to disagree with one of your reviewers' major points, you better be prepared not only to defend it completely and convincingly, but also to concede a bunch of smaller points that you may still disagree with but not as vehemently.
  5. Shameless self-promotion is acceptable behavior on the part of the reviewers. Asking that their work be cited (even though it may be redundant or not all that innovative) seemed to be par for the course from all of my reviewers.
  6. Your figures are never good enough.
  7. Don't procrastinate in dealing with the reviews and don't pick all the low-hanging fruit first. Boy, did I learn this the hard way. If your reviews are going to require you to do some re-analyses, you better get started now. Just as writing the paper took longer than you thought, so will revising it. And leave yourself some easy comments for the end, because it can get rather discouraging to just slog through one depressing and frustrating comment after another.

10 comments:

brother said...

congratulations on getting paper #1 done!

Jane said...

Great points!

Regarding #7, I totally agree. But I also find that a great way to get myself to get started on the revisions is to start w/ a couple of the easy points and fix those. For some reason, that gives me the momentum to start tackling the bigger issues.

Good luck w/ the latest round of revisions!

Dr. Mon said...

Hooray for you on getting some things off your desk and best wishes on some quick, cosmetic changes!

You know I couldn't fully articulate why I hated my first experience with reviewers such much, but it is because of #1. The comments did nothing to help me improve the manuscript--they just told me I sent it to the wrong place.

ScienceWoman said...

Glad my post is striking a chord. I'm already done with the latest round of revisions. We have a wonderful in-house scientific illustrator who is going to deal with some of my figure issues for me on this paper. Now maybe I can write something new...

Anonymous said...

Your comments are so apt! You should keep a copy of this list & distribute it to your future students. Regardless of the field, these insights will help future students maintain some semblance of sanity. Thanks-I'm going to make a personal copy of this.

ScienceWoman said...

anonymous - I'm glad you found this helpful. I like to think that a fair number of my blog posts are things that I will find handy in the future and maybe even the beginnings of a survival guide for my graduate students.

P. G. said...

Re: number 5, doesn't that kind of blow the point of anonymous peer review? Or does your field not do anon?

Dr. Shellie said...

I've started making people cite me, too (if relevant). It feels great! Last week I reviewed a paper that said, "We found that (highly specialized) property X could be designed to achieve a value of Y%, the highest value to our knowledge reported to date." Happily I was able to respond, "In Ref. (blah) by Dr. Shellie et al, a value of (Y+2)% was reported." Heh, heh.

ScienceWoman said...

P.G. - Yes, we have anonymous peer review, but two of my reviewers opted to have their name returned to me. One even volunteered to let me contact her if I had questions. My field is very friendly (if quite a bit macho).

Simon Donner said...

#8. Remember lessons 1-7 whenever reading a published paper. The section you don't like? The author(s) have added it to please a reviewer.