They just keep moving the line: Peer review and the follow-up to “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

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For a little over a year now, I’ve been going through a review process for the follow-up to my previous article, “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.” The new article is an investigation of how prevalent the study of research is in core LIS literature, touching on a variety of specializations and research areas.

It’s not going well.

I wrote before about how the first round of feedback was generally positive but pointed to some areas for improvement. The article needed to be reorganized. One reviewer felt that the literature review was “sparse and full of self-citation.” So I did a big overhaul of the whole thing and redid the whole literature review. It was a lot of work but I was pretty confident that the revision I submitted was stronger than the original work.

It turns out that the reviewers feel differently. Well, at least one of them did. That reviewer really seems to hate the new version or at least have a strong preference for the old one and its much shorter literature review. The second reviewer seems to feel okay about the article though there are still areas that need to be improved.

I have no idea what to do with this feedback.

Really, though, I have no idea what to do with this article.

The exact timeline is a little fuzzy, but all told I think I spent about two years on the research behind the article and then another year drafting it and getting feedback from colleagues before submitting it for the first round of review. That first round took about six months. The revision process took about four. The second round of reviews took another three.

This article was never one I was excited about. I did it in the first place because I thought it would be an interesting next step in the research agenda I had set for myself with my original article. I also wanted to challenge myself to do something that involved “real” research with, like, data and numbers. What I found was interesting and I think provides some good support for the ideas I presented in “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.” But writing the thing was pretty mind-numbing. When I submitted it the first time, I was glad to get it off my plate for a while just so I could focus on other projects, ones I was more excited about. Taking time to do substantial revisions took away from these other projects.

The truth is, I feel like I’ve moved on from this article and the ideas in it, mentally and intellectually. I just don’t feel much connection with it anymore and I’ve come to believe that the book project I’m working on now is a much better follow-up to the first article than anything in this new one.

So what to do with it?

Obviously, I need to talk to the journal editor to maybe work out some of the conflicting feedback I seem to be getting (one reviewer who liked the original version better, one who seems okay with the new one). But I already know I have no desire to undertake another big revision, even though I think the constructive criticism/negative feedback I received in this round was justified. I just don’t know that I have the will to apply more big changes and it seems that big changes are needed if I want this article to be published in this particular journal. So if I decide not to make those changes, I have to accept that the article won’t be published in this venue.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be published at all. I could still submit some version of it (either as-is or with less time-consuming changes) to another journal to see what the reviewers there say about it.

Or I could just shelve the thing and focus on my other projects, which I have more interest in and feel could be stronger in the long run.

The idea of putting the article in a drawer has some appeal. But I kind of hate the idea of wasting all that work. The article I have now represents several years’ worth of work for me, not to mention the time and effort of all those who took the time to give me feedback on it, including the peer reviewers and several colleagues. I don’t want to be disrespectful of their time by trashing it now.

But it’s nice to know that shelving it is an option. One that feels like a bit of a luxury, actually. This isn’t exactly the first time an article I wrote received some harsh feedback on the road to publication but it’s the first time I don’t have the ticking tenure clock hanging over my head. Before tenure, I didn’t have the time or space for error. Back then, when a peer reviewer asked for big changes, I made them because I had to. There was no time to start back at square one.

Now I have tenure and there’s no ticking clock. I mean, I’d like to go up for full librarian at some point and at least one of my mentors would like to see me to do so sooner rather than later. In reality, though, I have as much time as I want and more room for error. If this article is a dud, that sucks for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned but it’s not the end of the world. Not when I have other projects that I’m passionate about the way I was about that original article.

Anyway, it would have been nice if the article had made it through. No matter how justified, receiving critical feedback is never fun. But even if I don’t get a published article out of this, I did learn a lot from the process of research and writing the thing, so I guess not all is lost.

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