The Benefits of Peer Reviewing

There is a great article on peer reviewing (sorry, gated) by Beth Miller, Jon Pevehouse, Ron Rogowski, Dustin Tingley, and Rick Wilson in the current issue of PS: Political Science and Politics (HT Marc Bellemare). My favorite part of the article is not the guidelines on how to be a good peer reviewer, but why it is important to review manuscripts even if you are purely and utterly selfish. Peer reviewing, after all, can take a lot of time, and is viewed as an onerous task that distracts from other professional activities like research, writing, teaching, and going to get coffee. I quote at length:

  • Refereeing allows you to keep up with cutting-edge research in your sub-field, while also helping to keep your sights set more broadly;
  • Too often, we only see the final product, which can give us a false sense of elegance. Reviewing manuscripts in their early stages reminds us that everyone (and every published bit of research) has to go through a process of refinement;
  • By exposing you to diverse examples and writing styles, reviewing allows you develop an appreciation of effective writing and helps you improve as a writer;
  • Related, refereeing allows you to understand and apply the subtle differences between writing papers for seminars, conferences, and journals;
  • Finally, many academic journals allow reviewers to see the other reviews of the same manuscript, which allows you to assess your own review and compare your assessment of a manuscript to what other researchers think about it. It also allows you to see how much disagreement may prevail in evaluating even important manuscripts.

I could not have said this better myself. One thing to note among these comments is the emphasis on improving your own writing by reading and critically evaluating others’ work. I think that PhD students, especially, fail to appreciate just how important writing is: style, form, clarity, argument, all the things that you learn in high school English class.