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It is my great pleasure to announce that Springer has agreed to sponsor another annual award in addition to the AER Best Paper Award. The Springer AER Reviewer of the Year Award will be announced at the AARE conference each year and the winner will receive a prize of $500 and a small plaque. The award will be judged according to data (e.g., timeliness, number of reviews completed) available from AER’s online submission system, Editorial Manager, as well a qualitative rating based on comprehensiveness and pedagogical quality.

So, given that we’re taking the initiative to reward reviewers, what is AER looking for in a review? 

Pat Thomson recently blogged about two types of reviewers: Dr Jekyll (the collegial respondent) and Mr Hyde (the ruthless critic). In our following Twitter conversation, we agreed that there were probably many more types, however, the two types that she identified are a useful frame of reference for thinking about collegial and productive reviewer habits. As an author, my preferred type is Dr Jekyll. Definitely prefer the nice guy! J As an Editor, however, I prefer what some might see as an amalgam of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: collegial and constructive but also forensic and exacting.  This is because Dr Jekyll singles “out only the most important things that need attention” and assumes “that as the writer is fixing these they will find the other things that follow on”.  

Whilst they shouldn’t go down the negative path that Hyde does, from my observations over the last year or so there is a risk in making these assumptions, which is that the author has less opportunity to improve the manuscript as much as they may otherwise. If the numbers in a table do not add up, the author (and the Editor) needs to be alerted of that. If there are spelling errors and typos, please itemise them so that they are picked up and corrected at this stage in the process. If the approach to analysis could be improved or there is a better way (e.g., using multi-level modelling as opposed to logistic regression or if neither is appropriate due to sampling issues), then let the author (and the Editor) know and help them to understand why.

A review of this type stands out

It is clear and well-organised, and it identifies strengths and potential contributions to knowledge, as well as weaknesses. Most importantly, Dr Jekyll (the collegial reviewer) suggests ways in which the author might seek to address those weaknesses regardless of whether the manuscript is of publishable standard or not. 

If the manuscript is not publishable – and this is usually because there are identifiable design flaws (e.g., insufficient sample size, methods/approach cannot answer the research questions) or because the manuscript does make an original contribution to knowledge – Dr Jekyll clearly and explicitly explains why this is the case.

By comparison, Mr Hyde might write a vague and dismissive paragraph that provides little in the way of justification, often with a longer and more descriptive paragraph in the ‘Confidential Comments to the Editor’ box.  Unfortunately, in this mode, Mr Hyde helps neither the Editor – whose job it then becomes to explain and justify why the paper cannot be published – or the author who (without significant work on the Editor’s part) comes away from the experience chastened and demoralised but, in all other respects, none the wiser.

We’ve probably all been both and other types of reviewers at times and sometimes we can swing from being Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde in the space of a day. There is little recognition of this particular act of service in academic workloads and it is often something that we do when we can squeeze it in – somewhere after the first or second reminder and shortly before we collapse into bed on a Sunday night… We also do this for multiple journals and aside from the automated ‘thank you’ email, there tends to be is little acknowledgment. Unless we do it really well and then we receive more and more requests.

Well, that is about to change! 

As the official journal of the Society, AER has a pedagogical responsibility to AARE members and to the Education research community more broadly.  We appreciate the efforts of our reviewers and we want to recognise them.  So, when you deliver an outstanding review for AER that meets the definition of collegial and constructive but forensic and exacting, expect a heartfelt letter of gratitude from me.  These reviewers will then be in the running for the 2015 Springer AER Reviewer of the Year Award, which will be awarded at the AARE conference in Fremantle this December. I am looking forward to sending out HEAPS of these letters in the coming months.  J

 

A/Prof Linda Graham

Managing Editor

Australian Educational Researcher

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