Articles and Posts from ISQ

You agree to review a manuscript. When it comes time to write your report, you open the PDF and start to read it. As you progress further through the manuscript, your impression shifts from pleasant surprise to outright happiness. 

"This piece," you think to yourself, "is really good. Sure, it has some minor problems. And it isn't perfect. But what is? I'm going to recommend an acceptance or a conditional acceptance." 

Because you think highly of the manuscript, you don't have a lot to say. So you write a few words in praise of the piece, make a few minor suggestions for revision: perhaps the framing needs a little improvement, perhaps you think that the author mischaracterizes a reference, and perhaps the author could cite a few more things. You have a question or two. 

You take a look at your review, check off the appropriate boxes in the confidential portion of the report, and then hit "send."

Some time later, you receive an email with the decision letter. Much to your dismay, the journal has rejected the article. 

You read the other reports. R2 looks like a revise-and-resubmit with maybe four paragraphs of criticisms and suggestions. R3 looks like a rejection. It is quite long and quite negative. You look over R2's and R3's reports again. You think R3 is being harsh. You saw the same issues, but you don't think that they rise to the level of rejection. Although you prefer the tenor of R2's letter, you see most of the concerns there as quibbles. You've seen similar problems in published work in that very journal.

I imagine that some variation on this scenario plays out quite a lot. And sometimes the positive reviewer is correct. 

So what happened? 

The explanation lies in an uncomfortable truth: even conscientious editors are likely to discount a short positive review in light of more detailed, longer, and less favorable evaluations. Reviewers who really like a manuscript need to take this into consideration when writing their reports.

The solution isn't, per se, to make your first-round "accept" report longer for the sake of making it longer. Rather, if you strongly believe that a manuscript deserves to be published then you need to think of yourself as an advocate for it. 

That means supplying a few additional warrants for each claim about the manuscript's strength. Even if the manuscript does a good job of, say, explaining why its empirical strategy makes sense, you would do well to affirm that and provide some additional explanation. If the piece makes an important theoretical point, then spend a few sentences affirming and contextualizing its importance. And consider preempting some objections that you think other referees might advance. 

In general, keep in mind that you can make your support for the manuscript more credible precisely by identifying its weaknesses and discussing why they shouldn't be dispositive. 

Indeed, even if you expect a manuscript to receive other strong reviews, you should still engage in a bit of advocacy—both in the comments to the author and in the comments to the editor. 

At ISQ we received 546 original submissions last year. Many of our reference-group journals receive a similar, if not much lager, number of submissions. This means that we decline to pursue publication for a significant number of manuscripts that are, in many respects, worthy of a revise-and-resubmit decision. 

In an environment in which journals have to turn down plenty of worthy pieces, the role of a positively inclined referee as an advocate becomes even more important.

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The International Studies Association

Representing 100 countries, ISA has over 6,500 members worldwide and is the most respected and widely known scholarly association in this field. Endeavoring to create communities of scholars dedicated to international studies, ISA is divided into 7 geographic subdivisions of ISA (Regions), 29 thematic groups (Sections) and 4 Caucuses which provide opportunities to exchange ideas and research with local colleagues and within specific subject areas.
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