What I learned from the peer review process

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 25, 2012. Links have been updated but no other changes have been made.

CC image by Nic McPhee

Back in March 2011, Micah wrote a post on the need for LIS students to foster a culture of writing and sharing.  I followed his advice (as it has yet to lead me astray!), and this past semester I started as a Content Editor of San Jose State University’s SLIS Student Research Journal (SRJ).  I also submitted a paper I wrote in the fall semester to Library Student Journal (LSJ), which has been accepted for publication.  Both experiences, as a reviewer and reviewee, have been great — so I thought I’d share a little bit about them.

As a Content Editor for SRJ, I review papers that have been submitted for publication.  The process is blind, so I have no idea who wrote the manuscripts I review — and the authors don’t know who is reviewing their papers.  My review is based on a detailed rubric.  Besides clear writing, the main things I generally look for are a research question, thesis, strong argument, and connection to other scholarly literature.  I also consider if the topic is original and contributes to the existing scholarly discussion.  I’ve gained a lot from being a reviewer — mainly, I’ve greatly improved my ability to articulate my criticisms better.  Being a peer reviewer has also exposed me to a variety of LIS topics I would never have read otherwise.  I’d list some of them, but it’d give away what manuscripts I reviewed!  The reviewer perspective has also helped shape my current approach to research and writing by knowing what qualities can improve a paper.

The process of submitting a paper for publication is generally something like:

  • submit your paper based on the author/submission guidelines on the journal’s website
  • receive comments on your paper — you’ll probably be grouped in one of these categories: immediate reject, accept with minor revisions, accept with major revisions, provisional acceptance
  • based on the category you fall into, you can decide to proceed with the process and revise your paper to submit again — or decide against revisions and withdraw your manuscript

My experience with LSJ involved receiving initial feedback, doing some minor revisions, re-submitting it, receiving feedback from the copy editor, and then revising it again.

Back in January, I questioned the value of the final research paper.  I found that submitting my paper for publication in LSJ motivated me to further work on a piece of research I started in class and turn it into something I felt more confident about.  Having a few sets of eyes look over it and give me feedback was really helpful.  Even if my paper wasn’t accepted for publication, I still think the comments I received were incredibly valuable.  I realized areas I need to work on, such as inserting my own voice into my writing instead of relying on quoting sources.  Based on comments from the editors, I ended up revising my paper twice — and the final product is definitely way better than my original submission.  Yes, it can be hard to receive criticism, but how else can you learn to improve?

So in summary, publishing experience (in either role — reviewer or reviewee) helps sharpen your research and writing skills in different ways.  I definitely encourage all students to submit your work for publication — you’ll probably receive different feedback than what you get from your professor, and the process allows you to further explore research you’ve already started.

Have you submitted a paper for publication?  If so, what’d you think of the process?  If not, what’s stopping you?

10 replies

  1. I haven’t submitted any type of research paper, but the biggest hurdle for me is knowing what to submit. My program didn’t assign many papers so I don’t have that established body of work to pull from. I might sound crazy, but I wish that we wrote more papers in my program so that I would have more materials to work with. As of now, I have some half baked ideas but none sound innovative enough or scholarly enough to pursue.

    What I am thankful for is having a solid knowledge of research methodology and what a scholarly article should look like. But yeah, my main hurdle: having a good research question. :/


  2. I haven’t really written any library research papers yet (though I might try to fancy-up my literacy dogs paper for publication somewhere), but I do have experience publishing scholarly literary criticism. The process can be daunting, but it helps if you have people doing it with you. In literary studies grad school, our professors recommended that we make “pacts” with friends to send essays out for publication for moral support (and of course also to form writing groups to read each other’s essays and give each feedback for revision).

    I also agree with Rose that getting some experience being a peer reviewer is incredibly illuminating of the process. It demystifies what can seem to be a scary process and helps you understand the way a peer reviewer might approach your essay. It’s great that SJSU’s program has a publication that students can work on. I’m sure there are other student-run library journals… Anyone else working on one?


  3. Thanks for describing two angles of the process, Rose. Last summer, I answered a call for reports on conference topics, in PUBLIB (the listserv) well before the conference began. Luckily, I had a class built on attending a conference, reporting on the sessions attended, and composing a short paper on a topic addressed therein. It was a non-intimidating opportunity. I have a bee in my bonnet to work up a term paper for SRJ–maybe the online writing group idea will work out next term.


  4. Very cool! Glad to see you getting involved in the field literature Rose. I’m making my own forays into publishing with some stuff forthcoming. In my (very strong) opinion, librarians have the opportunity to own our developing roles in the information landscape, and writing and publishing high-quality, well-researched “scholarly” pieces is fundamental to getting people to take you seriously. (I really love PC Sweeny’s Great Librarian Write Out for this exact same reason.) Be confident, write what you know and be open to constructive criticism. Write on!


  5. Thanks for giving insight into the peer review process, Rose. I’m planning to submit to a couple of journals soon, so this helps a lot.


  6. Rose, thank you for sharing your experience with SRJ. As the first managing editor for SRJ, I can tell you from my own experience that it is not always easy to maintain anonymity in a double-blind review process, even at a school with as many students as SJSU SLIS, and I was always extremely impressed by the ability of content editors (like Theresa Putkey, Cynthia Cohen, and everyone else!) to review content with no context and no ability to engage in sense-making interviews with the author. Your service as a content editor is very important to helping your fellow students develop their research and critical thinking skills. I am happy to see you encouraging others, and I hope you are very proud of the work that you’ve done to empower them!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Metaholic Musings and commented:
    This Hack Library School post from Rose Chou is a wonderful account of the student research journal experience from the perspective of both a submitter and a content reviewer.

    Liked by 1 person

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