Useful Peer Review Feedback

We asked our authors, "What do you look for in the feedback provided through peer review?" Here's what they told us.

I appreciate when peer reviewers respond from two simultaneous viewpoints: their representation of the whole readership of a publication and their own individual viewpoint. I want to know how a reviewer thinks a manuscript will be received by a wider readership—how my argument melds with that readership's values and how my manner of framing that argument will draw in or alienate the group. I want to know, too, how an individual reviewer reacts and why certain aspects of a text make them care (or not) about my project.

When a reviewer suggests expanding a manuscript to include literature on a particular topic, I want the reviewer to suggest an author or two so I will know whose work to start with. I don't expect the reviewer to decide for me what scholarship to work with, but I gain a better sense of how the reviewer's suggestion fits within the field when I know whose work they have in mind.

Finally, I hope for reviewers to be kind: to assume that a manuscript results from a writer's aiming to do their best work. I don't mean that I want reviewers to be gentle. Please, criticize away! But I am most receptive to critical feedback shared with a spirit of generosity.

– Ann Amicucci, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Editor, Stories from First-Year Composition

What I look for is most easily addressed in a list. The list is not hierarchical since each item is equally important to a successful review.

– Patty Ericsson, Washington State University
Editor, Sexual Harassment and Cultural Change in Writing Studies

Good peer reviewers have expertise and experience in a specific area. They also offer positive and professional responses. As a journal editor, my colleagues and I try to assign manuscripts to the persons most qualified to give authors authentic feedback and help authors become better at revising their own work. If the manuscript is not appropriate for the audience and purpose of the journal, the reviewers should recognize this and either suggest ways the authors might revise the article to fit the journal or suggest alternative publications that might be more appropriate. The reviewer's focus should be on the content and its relevance to the audience, its accuracy, its clarity and organization, and its consistency of tone and voice. If grammatical errors are a distraction and not a typographical error or omission of a word, then I suggest peer reviewers give an example of something the authors need to focus on before submitting a revision. I encourage all peer reviewers to consider themselves teachers of writing who are trying to help authors discover how to improve their work to make it publishable in a professional journal.

– Pamela Childers, The McCaulie School
Editor, Excellence in K-12 WAC Book Series and The Clearing House Journal

A good peer review will help me to see my work in a broader perspective, to consider angles I had not thought of before, and to find better ways to express my ideas. I don't look for a peer review to tell me what to do to "fix" things, but rather to help me understand how my draft is being understood. I really appreciate reviewers who have tried to follow the journey I planned for them, and then taken the time to tell me when they got lost.

– Cheryl Geisler, Simon Fraser University
Author, Coding Streams of Language

As a writer/researcher, I thrive on peer feedback that explains what the reviewer thinks my draft has done well and articulates why — then suggests specifically ways that I can improve the draft in revision, again contextualizing these suggestions in terms of other research and other relevant perspectives. In my writing career, I can recall particular suggestions that have immensely benefited specific books and articles.

– Chris Thaiss, University of California, Davis
Author and editor of several books, including Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places