Purposive Rambling

the journey is the reward.

Writing Reviews

with 5 comments

There’s a discussion going on over at scatterplot about the ethics of letting grad students help out with paper reviews. It seems that the general consensus is that you should ask the editor to be safe, and that it’s an incredibly important socialization experience for grad students. As a grad student, I wholeheartedly agree with this last point.

Last semester I took a course that was all about the writing process. All students in our program are required to take the course at least once, and many end up taking it multiple times. Everyone comes in with a work-in-progress, and one of the goals is to get the paper in publishable-shape by the end of the semester. My paper is not quite there, but it will be soon, and it has come a LONG way since the beginning of last semester. Along with working on our own papers and giving each other feedback, we also talked about the basics of writing academically, the difficulties of writing, and what the publishing process is like.

As part of our discussion on getting published, we did some reviewing. Our professor received permission from a colleague to share her journey to getting a paper published. This colleague allowed us to see all of the drafts, reviews of those drafts, and her/his comments back to reviewers. Before we saw others’ reviews, though, we wrote our own. I had no idea what a review was supposed to look like. And my first stab at it was pretty terrible. I found out that I was way too nit-picky. I wanted to point out every little thing that I wished the author would change. When I stepped back from it and thought about how I would react to a review like the one I had just written, I realized I was being pretty harsh. It wasn’t my paper, and there should be some room for your own style.

The reviewer’s job is more about determining whether the paper makes a contribution and whether it is free of big theoretical, methodological, and analytical gaps and flaws. Writing our own reviews and then being able to compare them to the actual reviews for that paper, and then seeing all the work that this author had to do to move forward from the reviews was incredible. Seeing the process from start to finish really demystifies it. It’s easy to feel inadequate when you just read the final published product, but no papers start off that way. They have a long journey from conception to publication.

After doing the fake review, I was asked to do a real review for a journal. I felt so much more prepared and confident in my ability to comment on this paper after having had this class last semester. I really enjoyed doing the review. It was really neat to feel like I was playing an instrumental role in making someone else’s scholarship better. I can’t wait to do the next one! But in the meantime, I should probably¬†focus on getting my own paper published.


Written by Lisa

May 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Neat. I wish my grad program had a class like that. Our Research Methods class does some, but not all, of this. In particular, I have never yet seen a paper’s evolution from draft to responding to reviewers to published; the first time I do will presumably be a paper of my own.

    I’m very interested in how to teach writing, so if you have other thoughts about what was more or less helpful in the class, I’d love to know ’em.


    May 29, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    • Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth! I think three of the things that were the most helpful for me were: 1) figuring out your own writing habits – knowing where, when, and how you write best, 2) finding exemplar papers (really great papers that are in some way similar to what you’re trying to write) that you can dissect to figure out the appropriate structure of a paper, and 3) not saying everything that you know about the topic you are studying, but instead figuring out what your story is and constructing a paper that tells that story.


      May 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm

      • Thanks, Lisa! I really agree with the part about constructing a story. Something I’ve been having fun debating with a couple fellow grad students about is how much our articles and talks actually should/shouldn’t conform to conventions of good fiction. I find this stuff really fun to think about.

        I’d love to see research, actually, on what makes effective nonfiction writing. I’ve read lots of opinions, but no real evidence, even though I assume that since everything in ed seems to be extensively studied, this has been too. Actually, I always find it odd that as grad students, we’re not just presented with research on what makes effective writers, teachers, etc as a matter of course. But I digress.


        May 31, 2009 at 5:27 am

  2. Hi! I just found your blog through some random tag sorter or something. I started my blog yesterday here on wordpress. I too am a sociology grad student, married 6 years, from KY, younger brother in/home from Iraq, and love Indy and the Colts. Weird! Anyway, thought I’d say hello. It’s nice to find a sociology blog.


    May 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    • Wow! That is weird! Good luck with your blog. I’ll be sure to check it out!


      May 30, 2009 at 3:28 pm

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