Outsourcing Manuscript Reviews

Smile SecretaryAcademic journal editors regularly ask me to anonymously review manuscripts that have been submitted for publication. Given that this work is unpaid and has a negligible effect on my prospects for promotion, it usually ends up far from the top of my priority list.

I recently realized that this task could be outsourced to undergraduate students as a writing assignment. Students in many of my courses already analyze journal articles, so why not make the process experiential? They can use the same guidelines and rubrics they use now, but with a more authentic role, audience, and format.

I can see a series of scaffolded components to this exercise:

  • Evaluate the manuscript from a stylistic perspective. Is the writing free of  mechanical errors? Is it concise and easy to follow?
  • Locate a piece of literature in the manuscript’s bibliography. Analyze it using the criteria that I link to above. Explain whether the author of the manuscript under review is referencing this literature appropriately.
  • Analyze the argument in the manuscript itself using the same criteria.
  • Make a recommendation about the manuscript–for example, accept, revise, or reject–and justify one’s recommendation. This could be performed in teams as a collaborative activity, with the members of each team deciding upon a joint recommendation and then presenting this recommendation to the class.
  • I compile the students’ work into a single assessment of the manuscript and submit it to the journal’s editorial staff.

The downside to this idea is that I never know when I will be asked to review a manuscript, so I can’t schedule it as an assignment before the course starts. But I’ve found that both I and my students often enjoy a change in routine.

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