Peer Review from an Editor’s Perspective: Q&A

We asked Steven Kettell, Co-Executive Editor of British Politics questions related to peer review. Read on for an insider look at the peer review process.profile

  1. How would you define a good peer reviewer?
    A good reviewer is someone who is on time, honest and clear. A bad reviewer (if they ever both to send in their comments) will meander about without reaching a firm decision (clue: tick a box!), be full of excessive suggestions or (worse still) be so brief as to be pointless. Two lines is not a review! If the paper is being rejected then a reviewer should be clear (but not rude – or at least not too rude) as to why this is the case. And if the recommendation is to revise and resubmit then the review should set out a number of specific and quantifiable guidelines to follow.
  2. What would be your general advice for someone undertaking their first peer review?
    Remember that this is not your paper. Your job is not to dis/agree with what the author is saying, or to turn it into something that you would write. Your job is to assess whether or not the paper has any merit. It is perfectly fine to disagree with a paper, and for it still to be publishable.
  3. What is your biggest obstacle as an editor when it comes to peer review?
    The obvious ones are making sure you get sufficiently detailed comments on which to make a decision. The horror scenario is when you end up with a set of reviews that are evenly split, for and against, down the middle. So if all reviewers could get together and agree not to differ anymore then life would be much easier.
  4. How do you feel about peer review rewards? Is there a type of reward in particular that you think is especially valuable?
    The only thing I can think of here (apart from cash) would be publishers vouchers towards the cost of books. I’m not sure how useful they would be, however. The vast majority of reviewers have no real problem doing peer review, if they have the time, and generally consider it to be a professional duty. Adding a ‘paid’ element runs the risk of a reviewer bumping up their word count just because they feel they have to, rather than them actually having something useful to say. So I’m yet to be convinced.
  5. How do you see the peer review process evolving in the future? Are there changes to it that you have already witnessed?
    One of my pet peeves (as a reviewer) in recent years has been the shift towards the use of online tracking systems. The whole set-up is massively impersonal. But largely I hate them because I can never remember the passwords I use to login, so that it takes me twice as long to dispatch my review as it would be just to email the editors directly. I’m very happy that British Politics still does things the old way!

Steven Kettell is an Associate Professor in Politics and International Studies. He received a BSc. (Hons) in Politics from Plymouth (spending a semester at the University of Economics, Prague), and an MA in Comparative Politics from York. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Warwick in 2003 on the subject of exchange rate policy-making, with particular reference to Britain’s membership of the gold standard during the interwar period. He worked as a lecturer in British Politics at the University of Birmingham from 2003-2005, and is also a founder and Co-Executive Editor of British Politics

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