June, 2016

Negative reviewer comments damage authors’ motivation and confidence:
A study on Chinese researchers

The purpose of peer review is to make the publication process smooth for authors by providing constructive feedback to help improve the quality of the manuscript. Unfortunately, reviewers sometimes fail to empathize with authors and provide their feedback in a manner that is overly critical, superficial, or dismissive. Negative reviewer comments defeat the very purpose of peer review as they demotivate authors rather than helping them improve their paper.

A recently published study titled “How do authors feel when they receive negative peer reviewer comments? An experience from China” confirms that negative peer reviewer comments can have a damaging effect on authors’ motivation and confidence levels.  Authored by Kakoli Majumder, a member of the Editage Insights team, the study is based on a discussion on a virtual community for biomedical researchers in China, where authors shared their experiences with negative reviewer comments. While 38% of the authors participating in the discussion expressed feelings of sadness and depression at receiving negative reviewer comments, 21% displayed annoyance and anger.

The study tries to understand what kind of reviewer comments authors perceive as negative; how they react to such comments; and what, if any, long-term impact these comments have on the authors’ confidence and motivation levels. The article recommends that peer review should be more sensitive towards authors’ emotions and ensure that authors always receive constructive feedback. To achieve this, the study recommends that journals should select peer reviewers carefully and train them on how to give feedback. Additionally, authors’ feedback on the overall quality and tone of reviews should be taken into account, and a credit system should be developed by which reviewers would earn points for constructive reviews.

Peer review has all along been a highly debated topic in academia, and this study lends fresh perspective on this issue by focusing on the emotions of authors who are at the receiving end of reviewer comments. Studies like this could contribute towards making reviewers and editors adopt a more sensitive approach towards peer review.