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By Kevin Ward, University of Manchester


It is hard to over-estimate the importance of peer-reviewing, the process through which academics are approached by an editor to read and comment on another’s work in order that the editor can make a decision over whether or not to publish. A good review – one delivered on time and written in an encouraging and supportive manner and that provides clear guidance to the author(s) about how to improve the article – makes the job of an editor considerably easier. It means quick decisions, reducing the uncertainties in the system as authors wait to hear back. This is particularly important at the start of an academic career. And, how else is an editor to decide whether or not to accept a proposed publication? No one editor (or even group of editors) can cover the breadth of the discipline. So, we rely on those we approach to agree to review and to do it in a timely and professional manner.

One way of thinking about the whole process is as a virtuous circle. You produce an article and submit it to your chosen journal. Imagine it is Area (and why would it not be?!). The article is sent out for review, the comments come back in and the editor makes a decision. In the process you have benefitted from the labour of other academics in the short term (in terms of improving your article) and perhaps in the longer term (in terms of your wider research project). You then have a responsibility to read and comment on the work of others when asked. So, you will have made work for referees by submitting articles – a withdrawal from the system if you like – while at the same time making a deposit, so to speak, by giving your time to read and comment on the work of others. That does not mean that you should say yes to every article you’re asked to review. Saying no is fine (although if you do, editors usually appreciate your suggestions for other potential referees). However, an important aspect of being a responsible academic is acknowledging the wider system of which we are all part and what is needed in order to sustain it. Reflecting on this circle might also help you to think about what makes a good review. Those that are the most use to me, and I think to authors, are provided in a timely manner, and consist of thorough and constructive comments. And, it is not just about being responsible. The referee can also gain from the process. Being asked to review reflects the accruing of a certain amount of reputational capital, and it is common-place to find reviewing duties listed on curricula vitae. In addition, your own work might benefit as you get to read leading-edge work prior to publication. This may nourish and stimulate your own research and ideas. Moreover, new contacts and networks can be formed through the review process, as you realise someone else is working on similar issues. Although much reviewing is still done ‘double blind’ (the author and referee are anonymous to each other, which is especially common in human geography), it is possible – via an editor – to reach out to an author whose work you have reviewed.

So, the next time you are asked to review, take a minute to read the title and abstract, decide whether it might be in your interest to read and review the article and reflect on whether you are running a system-wide surplus or a deficit!


About this guide

Publishing is a crucial, but sometimes daunting and unexplained, part of academic life. All academic geographers are supposed to do it, but there are few formal guidelines about how best it should be done. Many of us discover how to publish by trial and error or through the mentoring and support of colleagues. Publishing and academic landscapes also change, presenting new challenges to established academics. The publishing and getting read guides have four main aims: to provide clear, practical and constructive advice about how to publish research in a wide range of forms; to encourage you to think strategically about your publication profile and plans; to set out some of the opportunities and responsibilities you have as an author; and to support you in getting your published research read.


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