College English Guidelines for Reviewers
Strong reviews—and thus strong reviewers—are essential to bringing the best versions of the best ideas to College English readers. Accordingly, all of us at the field office at Oakland University and at the NCTE home office in Champaign, IL, are more than grateful for those who are willing to provide this essential service to the field. Reviewing well makes a permanent contribution to advancing the scholarly conversation.
In the hopes of supporting this important work, we ask that all of our reviewers read the recommendations for reviewers outlined in “Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors” before evaluating a submission for this journal.
We also ask that you be mindful of the following:
- The benefits of peer review go well beyond simply determining a submission’s suitability for publication in College English. Providing critical and constructive guidance to authors and, thus, working to improve scholarship are equally, if not more, important to our discipline. With that in mind, please offer our writer(s) the most specific suggestions for improvement that you can formulate, regardless of your final opinion of their work. The advice you provide should encompass both your field-specific suggestions for developing the particular line of inquiry (method, evidence, citational contextualization) and more general suggestions about the genre features of academic essays (structure, cohesion, the function of an introduction/research review/conclusion).
- At the point of initial review, the reviewer has four options: reject; revise and resubmit; accept conditionally (pending revision); accept without revision. Please do NOT put your recommendation in the comments to the author. Instead, you may discuss your decision in the comments to the editor, who will synthesize your review and evaluation with that of the other reviewer(s). Similarly, as we use reviewers of all ranks, peer review is anonymized at CE. Please do not include your contact information, as it will not be forwarded to the author. (If they write with a direct question for a review, the editor will forward the query.)
- To guide your evaluation of a submission, we offer the following advice:
- When you recommend that the editors reject an essay, you are not claiming that the work is without merit and unpublishable. A rejection indicates that the work under review is more than just one large-scale revision away from publication in College English, one of the most highly selective journals in our field. Rejection is common, but an uncommonly “good” (useful) rejection is one that gives specific suggestions: either to advance the research in a way that seems directed toward publication or to provide the author with advice for how to revise the manuscript toward another publication that the reviewer proposes as an alternative. The worst rejection is the stealth rejection: a reviewer who advises revise and resubmit but whose review makes it clear that the manuscript is not going to be appropriate for College English. A common instance of this situation occurs when there is a flaw in the core argument of the article or in the method that cannot be compensated for by revision. In such a situation, recommending a revise and resubmit, rather than a rejection, is unkind and does a disservice to the author, for it means that they may waste their time attempting to walk through a door that is, essentially, already closed.
- Revise and resubmit (R&R) is the most common affirmative suggestion. Indeed, the current editor has not had any other editorial consensus on a manuscript: whenever there is an outlier “accept” at initial submission, the other reviewer has suggested R&R—or rejection. (In this latter situation, a third review is commissioned.) Like a rejection, a strong R&R gives specific disciplinary and writerly advice, but with a focus on developing the manuscript for College English. A typical R&R will begin with a summary of the manuscript’s argument as the reviewer understands it and then go on to discuss how the essay can be developed—advising ways to build upon strengths and address gaps in the argument, method, writing, etc.—before suggesting sources or additional lines of inquiry that might be included. The approach of the review, however, is up to the reviewer.
- Accept conditionally and accept are typically used only at the point of resubmission of an R&R. When writing either of these, it is most helpful if you (1) include suggestions to improve the essay in the final revision and (2) describe clearly how you arrived at that opinion. If there is a disagreement among readers and the affirmative opinion is simply a statement of judgment, while the negative opinion is an evidenced argument, it may be difficult for the editor to compare the reviews.
- At the point of resubmission of a revised manuscript, the only options are accept with revision, accept, and reject. If the evaluation suggests reject, it is most helpful to suggest alternate venues for publication and to describe what revisions might be most effective for the new target publication.
- As you review a submission, it may be helpful to consider the nature of the contribution the article would make to the field and the extent to which the work advances our understanding of its topic. We hope that our reviewers will also consider a submission’s approach, methods, and theoretical foundation, as well as the ways in which the work engages ethically with source material and research subjects as part of an ongoing conversation in the field. You might focus part of your evaluation on the ways in which the submission employs (or not) a full range of disciplinary expertise and engages citation practices that represent diverse canons, epistemological foundations, and ways of knowing. Finally, because College English is an interdisciplinary journal, you might consider both the significance of the work to the wider discipline and how this scholarship will be received by readers who are not specialists in the article’s particular area or topic.