Peer Review and Scholarly Communication

Peer review serves a variety of purposes in the ecology of electronic scholarly publishing. It is often relied upon by readers as a way of determining the quality of a publication; for authors, it can provide valuable critical feedback to help them improve their work and ensure that it reaches its audience effectively. For publishers, peer review is a way of exercising selectivity and winnowing out material that is too deeply flawed to be publishable. And for the academic community at large, peer review serves as a kind of credentialling system by proxy: a way of indirectly assessing the value of a piece of scholarship by assessing the exclusivity of its publication venue.

All of these functions have their value in some contexts, but in establishing review practices for the WWO exhibits and other publications, the WWP seeks to put critical pressure on the practices of scholarly publishing and to arrive at an approach that matches the real needs of our community, rather than reproducing traditional habits for their own sake. We therefore start by identifying those needs, as follows:

  • Authors need to be able to treat the materials they write for us as citable publications that can count towards academic advancement as appropriate; they also need to receive useful feedback to help them improve their work.
  • Readers need WWO materials to be strong, useful scholarly contributions; however, different readers may benefit from many different kinds of readings. Ultimately, readers must be their own judges of relevance and quality.
  • The WWP needs to be able to identify submissions that are topical and valuable, and that contribute to our exploration of scholarly writing in digital form.

Our review process consists of three stages:

  • Every submission is read by the WWP editorial team to determine whether it is suitable for publication. Materials that are not topically appropriate are declined at this stage. Materials that have promise but need substantial revision are given detailed feedback and the opportunity to resubmit.
  • Submissions dealing with specialized subject areas are sent to one or more reviewers with expertise in the appropriate area for comment. Reviewers are encouraged to provide constructive feedback that can guide revision.
  • Revised submissions are reviewed again by the editorial team to ensure that they are in publishable form.

This process guarantees that all submissions are read critically by several expert readers representing a variety of perspectives, and that the final publication reflects the criticism they provide. However, reviewers are instructed not to penalize submissions for espousing controversial positions (as long as those positions are illuminating and responsibly argued). And similarly, given the deliberately experimental nature of the WWP exhibits, we encourage reviewers to keep an open mind about how scholarly arguments are framed in the digital medium. We do not see the review process as a way of protecting readers from exposure to debatable opinions or unfamiliar forms of rhetoric: readers should be able to determine for themselves whether these things have value or not.