I consider myself to be a quasi-academic in that I hold an academic position, but not a PhD or research role. I have done, and continue to do, research in school contexts but this research often sits outside the conventions of ‘academic research’ in terms of methodology. The first two times I was approached by an academic journal to review a submission I refused, as I felt that I wasn’t qualified as a reviewer. The third time I was approached I agreed, simply because I was very interested in the subject of the article and felt it could be highly relevant for teachers/educators.
I began my task with trepidation, wondering if I would have anything at all to say about the article. I quickly became caught up in the narrative of the case study, and completely forgot that I was meant to be reviewing it! On my first time through, I only paid attention to the story the author was telling – what she wanted to know, what she did, and how she felt about the answers she had found. I was reading as a practitioner, and from this perspective found the article very rewarding. I went back to the article a second time, feeling that I need to find something ‘wrong’ with it, in my role as reviewer. In this second (and third) review I paid more attention to descriptions and conclusions in particular, and did find that some of the conclusions were not fully substantiated by the data. I felt a moment of pride, as I became a ‘real’ academic; reading other’s work to critique. This was quickly followed by a moment of sadness, thinking of the author and how committed to her work she obviously was, which led to these over-ambitious conclusions. In my fourth and final read through, I was looking specifically for things to highlight that I thought were very good about the research/article, to balance out the criticism of her methodology and conclusions. In this process, I can full circle, back to my quasi-academic self – reading for what I could get out of it, rather than to critique.
When the editor let me know that the article had been accepted subject to major revisions I was quite surprised, as I had only found what I considered to be minor issues. I had the opportunity to read the first reviewer’s comments. At first I thought that they were quite harsh, but I went back to the paper to read the areas critiqued (methodology and conclusions) and I could actually see the issues the reviewer was referring to, even though I hadn’t noticed them myself. From a professional development perspective, this was really valuable for me, as it raised my awareness of areas of research that I perhaps was not paying enough attention to in my readings. Partly I attribute this to my lack of confidence in my research credentials – I’m more likely to believe a researcher than to question them, as I feel they have more authority and knowledge.
Overall, it was a good learning experience, but not one I would want to repeat often! It takes a lot of time and attention to do a thorough job, and even when I gave that time and attention I still felt my review was lacking. On the other hand, I felt that the comments and suggestions I added were probably of as much value for the author, even though they were less focused on the precision of the research and more on the context and applications. In an ideal world, I think that the balance across two reviewers is good if they aren’t reading through the same lens.
1.Trust yourself – your perspective on the article is worthwhile, even if you don’t approach it in the same way as a more experienced academic/reviewer.
2.Think about the reader perspective – is this of value to non-traditional academic audiences (i.e. teachers) and if yes, is it written in ways that are accessible. A more experienced reviewer may not consider this aspect.
3.Read the other reviewer’s comments, as a professional development exercise. They may have noticed things you did not (i.e. methodological issues or statistics) but you can learn for next time.
Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated specialist in languages across the curriculum, including EAL, home languages, bilingual and immersion education, super-diverse schools and translanguaging. Her focus is on equal access to learning and language development for all students, and on appropriate and effective professional development for teachers working with language learners. She is author of the recent book ‘Bilingual Families: A practical language planning guide (2021) and co-author of “Linguistic and Cultural Innovation in Schools: The Languages Challenge” (2018 with Jane Spiro). She is also a Senior Lecturer in English Language and TESOL at Oxford Brookes University.