The value of painful review

Following the theme that something can be made of everything. My co-author and I have just finished revising another article. As is often the case when trying to break new ground, one of the reviews is negative. “What is the point of this paper? It doesn’t seem to make any worthwhile contribution.”

However, once we have got over the initial anger, good things can come out of it. I hope that this can also apply to difficult vivas and research review meetings.

The important question to ask is: “Why didn’t this particular audience understand what we were trying to say?” It is then that the interesting stuff can begin. When we look in detail through the text that we submitted, we discover a number of things we didn’t see before. We are looking with new eyes now – the imagined eyes of that audience that didn’t understand us. It is indeed true that we didn’t actually explicitly make the points that we thought that we had. Sometimes the points aren’t there at all. Sometimes they’re in places where they don’t make sense, or not in the places were they would make sense.

Then, when we put in the points that we had forgotten to make, other things begin to emerge – new relationships and connections that had not been clear before. Moving things around, thinking laterally about the text, brings new thinking and takes us forward to new places. We end up with a new title and a new core idea. It’s not easy. It might not come right until the fourth, fifth or sixth edit. But immensely worth all the work.

So thank you to that negative reviewer. Without you we wouldn’t have a better article with improved and even new ideas!

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