An academic writes…
The cruelties of ‘Reviewer 2’ and the vicissitudes of the academic peer review process in general are so well-known that ‘Reviewer 2’ is even its own meme.
As academic editors, one of the things that we are supposed to do is to collate the reviewer feedback into a report and present it to the article’s author in a way that will be constructive rather than demoralising, so that the article can be worked up and either published or resubmitted with a better chance of publication.
When I was editing for a graduate journal, submissions were relatively low (we published about 25% of what we received) and those we wanted to take on to peer review were relatively few. With these, we had the time and energy to go through reviewer feedback and to rephrase things that had – perhaps – been helpful critiques expressed in a blunt rather than encouraging manner.
Of course, we’re all adults here: we can take a bit of criticism. But also can’t we all admit that it’s much more motivating for someone to tell you that your work is good and needs some tweaks, rather than for someone to simply tear it to shreds?
So what do you do if you get a peer review report back that feels like an absolute demolition of your work?
(1) Re-read the report after a few days have passed.
It’s easy to latch on to the negatives in the heat of the moment, but on reflection there might be some positives there.
(2) Edit the report!
Your own copy, and usually as a Word file. Rephrase any comments that are helpful critiques but worded in a way that doesn’t help you feel motivated. Again, look for the positives: believe me, there are always positives. Then make your own list of intended changes, combining reader reports.
(3) Remember that these are two opinions, not the definitive opinion of all scholars.
Sometimes a dismissive comment (such as ‘this is nonsense’!), while worded unhelpfully, is actually a call for clarification rather than for the deletion of a point.
(4) And on that note, if you’re confident of your position, push back.
Not everything the reviewers say is a mandate. It’s still your piece.
Peer review happens to us all. Your Reviewer 2 has doubtless had some Reviewer 2s of their own. The cycle goes on…