Rejected! – The unhappy job of peer review

I recently peer reviewed an essay for a scholarly journal. Unhappily I recommended the essay be rejected. I would have much rather recommended it be revised and resubmitted, but it failed on so many levels that it was beyond revising – it was really bad! It was so bad, in fact, that I had one of my seniors read a page and asked him what level undergraduate had written it. He guessed third year undergraduate. Ouch!

Still, it is an unhappy job to peer review and recommend “Rejected” because it shuts down the process of improvement in the case of this particular essay being publishing in this journal. Having had an essay of my own rejected last year, I remember what it feels like. With those feelings of rejection close at hand, I sent a lengthy explanation of my rationale in the hopes that the author will improve their methods of research and writing and do better work in the future. I am a theologian, I always hope for redemption!

How many of you have peer reviewed essays and were compelled to recommend “Rejected.” It is a conflicting experience and I would like to hear from some of you. Or, if you are willing to admit it, have you had an essay or book proposal rejected? What did you learn in the process that was useful, or how did you wish it had been handled so that it would be more useful to you?

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2 thoughts on “Rejected! – The unhappy job of peer review

  1. Hi Kent, I have been on both sides of this fence, many times. I have had scores of essays (well a few) rejected by journals, sadly. In a few cases I totally agreed with the reviewers comments and they helped me sharpen my argument and writing, it was a positive experience and the articles were subsequently published. In other cases the reviewers comments were either non-existent (thanks publishers – that is helpful!), or they were unhelpful, on the level of “well I don’t agree with that argument so I don’t recommend it be published.” Who cares if you don’t agree with it! I also peer review for a number of journals and have had to decline some. It is always disappointing and I try to write very constructive comments on why it was rejected and what it may need to do to bring it up to scratch. In one case I think I had one like you are talking about and it was so bad I offered very little comment as nothing could save it.

  2. Thanks for commiserating Mike. When my essay was rejected last year I was frustrated because the reviewers offered no substantive feedback. We are all busy, I certainly understand that, but an agreement to peer review entails the responsibility to provide useful feedback when an essay is declined.

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