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LibParlor Contributor Reflection Series

“I wish I had known that!” Advice from the field, A Librarian Parlor Series Part III

Alison Hicks returns in her third post to discuss the reviewer's perspective.

This week LibParlor is proud to publish the third post in a three-part series, written by Alison Hicks. A week after being promoted to Associate Professor in the United States, Alison (@alisonhicks0) accepted a faculty position in the Department of Information Studies at University College, London. Having last lived in the UK 13 years ago, she is slowly readjusting to the soggy isle…

A Reviewer’s Perspective

There is a long-standing joke that Reviewer Two will always provide the antidote to the glowing feedback of your first peer-reviewer. Where Reviewer One congratulates your attempts to push the boundaries of the field, Reviewer Two will chastise you for not paying attention to how the field has developed or for failing to cite them enough or for not writing the paper that they want to read… As a reviewer for various core library and information science journals who has experienced plenty of my own idiosyncratic Reviewer Two rants and rejections, I’m always aware of trying to make my feedback as constructive as possible, especially when it seems like the author is new in the field. Having said that, there are a few reoccurring issues that will make me lean towards checking the Revise and Resubmit box rather than the Accept with Minor Revisions one. Here, from the perspective of a seasoned peer-reviewer, are a few things that I always look out for when I am reading any paper that I am sent to review.   


What are you trying to achieve? Finding the aim or the objectives of the paper that I am reading is often like the world’s most frustrating treasure hunt- with no guarantee of a prize at the end of it. In one article that I reviewed, the abstract seemed to imply that the paper would focus on technology, the introduction veered towards libraries, and then the body of the work itself ended up being about information literacy. I think… Not only is it annoying having to search for the research aim, but you also run the risk that the reader may either be unable to figure it out or think you’re writing about something that you’re not. A couple of lines in the introduction or a separate section after the introduction if the goal of your paper is more complex will help- the goal of this paper is to… this paper will explore… the research questions that drive this chapter are… I also especially like the simple formula that Hernon and Schwartz (2007) provide, which centres on (1) a lead-in, (2) a statement about originality and (3) a justification. Along these lines, a problem statement for this post would read: (1) It is often impossible to figure out the purpose of a journal article, yet (2) this is essential for both readability and comprehension, and so (3) this advice will be useful for new librarians who are looking to ensure the clarity of their work.


So, what?

“You don’t need to go overboard and present the findings of your research as the biggest discovery since the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun, but spell out how your findings differ from x or build on y to answer frustrating problem z in the field.”

This is my other big bugbear when I am reviewing work- why is this important? Why should I care? Yes, that’s great that the results of your pre- and post-test are statistically significant, but what does this mean for the advancement of knowledge? How does this help the field develop? As a teaching librarian, how can I use these results to improve my own practice? I personally don’t mind the “How I done good” genre of library article- after all, yes, I do want to know if you have come up with a great new learning activity that I could adopt in my work- but, when an article reads like a dry internal report that justifies why you need two extra teaching librarians, or fails to give me any takeaways or ideas that I can chew over or implement in my own work, I lose attention very quickly. You don’t need to go overboard and present the findings of your research as the biggest discovery since the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun, but spell out how your findings differ from x or build on y to answer frustrating problem z in the field. Include details that will help me to get the most out of your article- what were your interview questions, what does a sample lesson plan look like, how did you recruit the hard to reach specific population? What did you do differently? What does this mean for future research? And if you can’t answer these questions, how could you put a different angle on your research to make it more valuable?


What are you referring to? I review a lot of information literacy papers, and it’s amazing to me how different terminology is round the world, and especially within higher education- don’t assume that your readers will understand that specific phrase or local reference. Similarly, if you are writing about instruction, and I acknowledge that I may be in the minority here, I always like to see a reference to what information literacy means to you. Are you positioning information literacy as a set of skills or as the construction of habits of mind? Alternatively, do you see information literacy as socioculturally situated? There are so many ways of looking at information literacy around the world, and signaling your positioning of information literacy (whether it is through a description or a definition) provides the framing that adds validity and structure to your paper, as well as demonstrating the rationale for the decisions that you make in your research project. If you’re unsure what this could look like, take a look at Lloyd, Lundh and Limberg’s 2013 article that is modelled on the Sliding Doors film and explores what information literacy could look like from different perspectives. I’m also a big fan of making it very clear what learning theories you are espousing in your article- what pedagogies are you basing your learning activities on and why? What is the underlying basis for your intervention? Just as with information literacy, a quick reference or explanation provides a signaling device that adds to your validity as a researcher as well as to the structure of the paper. If it’s been awhile since you were up to speed with pedagogy, try Char Booth’s book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning which provides both a comprehensive and a comprehensible overview of various learning theories.  

While there is no guarantee that Reviewer Two will ever stop throwing what we refer to in the UK as “a spanner in the works” (translation: deliberately causing mayhem), hopefully some of these ideas will make your review process go a lot more smoothly.  

Wanting more?

Check out Alison’s first post, Reluctant Writers, Unite, and her second post, Methodical Methods.

Featured image [CC0], via Pexels

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