Category Archives: peer review

Review Angst

The Balisage paper acceptance email I got a few weeks ago contained not only the good news and some practical information with deadlines and such, but also peer review comments. When I first opened the email, I consciously avoided reading the comments, instead enjoying the moment and wondering about practicalities. I thought I’d start revising later; there was, after all, plenty of time.

A week went by and while I did think about ways to improve my paper, especially what examples and code to include in the presentation, I did not read the comments. After the second week, most of which I spent busy in customer projects, I still had not read the comments. Yes, I did think about my paper and I did take care of the practicalities, from passport to registration to hotel room reservation to booking flights, but I did not read a single comment.

It then dawned on me that my unconscious was hard at work avoiding them.

Peer reviews are the kind of feedback I tend to care about, and care about a lot. They are the exact opposite of your mum complimenting on your doodles on paper (“very nice, dear”), because they are written by people who a) know the field and b) want to understand what I’m trying to say, but also c) attempt to determine the validity of my ideas. Effectively, d) they decide my fate, not just the paper’s.

Sounds dramatic, right? It is, because I care very much about what I do, and I’d like to think that my ideas are worthwhile, that they add something. In my mind, the acceptance of the paper itself is secondary; it is instead vitally important that what thepaper represents is accepted, that the ideas are sound. Make sense?

Yet, paradoxically, when using those same ideas in my work I’m self-confident and usually will have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’m not particularly sensitive about them and will change them if needed, without bruising my ego too badly. It’s natural for ideas to evolve and to change; it’s natural to adapt.

Why are peer reviews different?

By the way, I did read the comments, eventually, and survived. They were quite useful, actually, and entertaining, too.

Peer Reviews

I’ve been peer reviewing for an XML conference, lately, and I just have to say that this markup thing doesn’t seem to be a passing fad.

Seriously, after 15+ years in the field, it still amazes me how useful it can be. Markup practitioners are a creative bunch, and more often than not, peer reviewing is a very humbling experience. There’s so much I want to (need to) learn more about, so many technologies to try, and so little time.

I should probably post this and go back to experimenting with XQuery.