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Reviewing at Warp Speed

by Gary Natriello - September 13, 2000

Picking up the pace in the review process

Reviewing the papers submitted to academic journals requires the voluntary efforts of many scholars who take the time to read and comment on these papers. Reviewers typically accept the assignment of reviewing a paper with some expectation that they will have a month or more to read the paper and return the review to an editor. They then complete the review when they have the time in their crowded schedules. Editors are dependent on such reviewers and encourage the timely return of reviews, but understand when a reviewer fails to return a review within the agreed upon time frame.

Compared to the measured pace at which reviewers are expected to complete reviews for most journals, including our own print journal, the pace we expect for reviews at tcr Online approaches warp speed! We have announced our goal of moving research notes through the review process within two to three weeks and hope to complete reviews of submitted commentaries within a matter of days. Our ability to deliver on these promises depends upon the complete cooperation of reviewers who will be asked to return comments on manuscripts within a day or so of receiving our request. For most experienced reviewers this will represent a dramatic change in expectations.

To help set the stage for this accelerated review process I want to take this opportunity to explain why we think this might work for tcr Online and the benefits that our readers and the community of scholars might anticipate from this change. It is important for authors, reviewers, and readers to support this more rapid process of review if it is to function to insure the quality of our publication.

For authors and reviewers it is important to recognize that an essential feature of realizing our goal of a rapid review process is the limitations we have placed on the length of the research notes and commentaries submitted for peer review. These pieces will run substantially shorter than the papers submitted for our print journal. These shorter pieces are intended to be read online, and they should also be reviewed online. This means that the actual time spent reading and commenting on a paper should be significantly shorter than for our typical print articles.

Reviewers will receive instructions for accessing the papers for review online, and access to the papers will be immediate. Reviewers will also be able to submit their comments online as soon as they read the paper. Thus the mechanical barriers to rapid review have been removed.

However, we are well aware that mechanical barriers are not the only factors standing between a reviewer and a completed review. Reviewers are accustomed to setting a paper aside until they have sufficient time and energy to move through the paper and prepare comments. Moreover, reviewers sometimes read a paper and think about it for a period of time before preparing comments for the editor and the author.

To achieve the goals of the rapid review process we are asking reviewers to change their approach to the entire review process. We are encouraging reviewers to access the paper for review as soon as possible and to prepare their comments immediately after reading the paper. We hope that once reviewers get used to providing rapid reviews they will find the process less burdensome than the traditional review process. Of course, some reviewers will still want to ponder a paper for a time before submitting comments, but we are asking reviewers to consider whether taking more time will result in a more thoughtful review or simply a slower review process.

Finally, for those who remain unconvinced of the necessity or wisdom of the rapid review process, remember that the rapid pace of other media outlets for the results of academic research allow all manner of findings to appear in public very quickly without the benefit of peer review. Thus, all too often it is not a choice between a rapid or slower review process but a choice between a rapid review process and no peer review at all prior to the release of findings. If the community of scholars does not wish to relinquish its quality control function to the popular media, it will have to move more quickly to review the papers submitted to major academic journals. We hope that the peer review process we have developed for tcr Online makes the more rapid review of papers as painless as possible, and we welcome suggestions for further improvements.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 13, 2000
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10414, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 7:01:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Gary Natriello
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    Gary Natriello is Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and the editor of the Teachers College Record.
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