The Joys and Sorrows of Peer Review

Simone de Beauvoir; sparks from the proverbial forge
Simone de Beauvoir; sparks from the proverbial forge

Is our peer review process in some way broken? Does it cause more grief than joy?

My colleague Jon Sullivan  has done some writing on these kinds of issues as well, but I’d like to do a little more “thinking out loud” on this site with respect to the role that peer review plays in our lives as Sinologists & scholars. I find myself doing a great deal more reviewing than I did when my career was just beginning, which I think is logical, but also presents challenges. Not only in terms of time and document management (the latter can become particularly acute when a journal is still operating out of a bunch of individual e-mail inboxes), but in terms of what direction any given publication goes, and the type of advice that scholars are given by reviewers, and the tone in which it is given.

The question of volume is another one; as a reviewer, I have taken to giving longer reviews which are somewhat sloppy in terms of punctuation and grammar, but which get the meaning across in bulk, as quickly as possible, since speed is of the essence but as a writer nothing is more frustrating than the feeling that the work has been only cursorily read.

I have also had some thoughts about ways to repurpose prose generated for anonymous peer review, but this is again a work in progress that I think needs more consideration and would need to be negotiated with more reviewers than just myself. In other words: At what point is it OK, or is it ever OK, to slightly rework a couple of paragraphs, or a couple of pages, of prose that have been generated initially while doing a review into as a blog post or stump essay? The notion that we reviewers aren’t getting some sparks firing during the review process is surely incorrect, and sparks, at least in my case, tend to result in the creation of a Word file that then takes on some kind of attachment to a larger research cluster in which I have taken interest. Some of my most profitable intellectual exchanges are thus with people with whom I may never have spoken but whose work I’ve reviewed.

So far this summer, I’ve reviewed papers for Journal of Asian Studies, Asian Perspective, Papers of the British Association of Korean Studies (the journal for which I am also the new Editor — more on that later) and book manuscripts for Routledge as well as Rowman & Littlefield. And there is a lot more on my plate for the next three weeks.

Although very little of this work is remunerated, I enjoyed nearly all of it, and was also pleased to have been asked to review the full book manuscript of a more commercially-viable project dealing with Kim Il-song biography which I assume will be coming out in due course.  And of course I continue my work as editor of, where the summer was somewhat less than relentless, but still really good; consolidation has its merits.

The sparks have a way from falling from the forge and igniting various prairie fires, to mix metaphors in a way that would never pass muster in a proper essay.  In sum, there is more joy than sorrow in the labor, but there is surely labor, without which there would be no production.  


  1. Never having reached such authoritive heights, ….

    From the final consumers perspective, I like to peruse the bibliography and footnotes first. Then a quick flic through, and if the signs look good, a thorough read.

    And a bit OT. Serious scholarship today, is positively brilliant, especially that emanating from the US, compared to say forty years ago. Archival access and pcs to collate notes and references I suspect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s