College English Guidelines for Reviewers
Strong reviews—and thus strong reviewers—are vital to bringing the best versions of the best ideas to College English readers. Accordingly, all of us at the field office at the University of Delaware and at the NCTE home office in Urbana, IL, are more than grateful for those who are willing to provide this service. Reviewing well makes a permanent contribution to advancing the scholarly conversation. In the hopes of supporting this important work, we ask you to be mindful of a few points.
- Peer review is not only to adjudicate suitability for publication in College English. Improving an essay is equally, if not more, important to the scholarly enterprise, irrespective of its suitability for our specific venue. With that in mind, please offer the writer the most specific suggestions for improvement that you can formulate, regardless of your final opinion. This advice 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 the recommendation in the comments to the author but in the comments to the editor, who will synthesize your opinion with that of the other reviewers. 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 reject an essay is not to claim it is unpublishable, but to suggest that it is not a single 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 guidance on how to revise the manuscript toward another publication that the reviewer proposes as a possibility. 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 CE. A common instance of this situation occurs when there is a flaw in the core argument or method that cannot be compensated for by revision. Such a situation is an unkindness to the author, for it wastes their time attempting to walk through a door that is, essentially, 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 talk of the ways that the essay can be developed—advising ways to build upon strengths and address gaps in the argument, method, writing, etc.—as well as sources or 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 is 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.