When studying for a 100% research degree, your academic life is always at the mercy of reviewers. Since there is no course work and exams, the number and the quality of the publications that emanate from your work are very important for you to get your degree.

When you submit a paper to either a conference or a journal, it gets reviewed by several experts in that particular research area. The comments and recommendations of these esteemed reviewers guide either the editors or the program committee on whether to accept or reject a paper.

This procedure vests so much power in the hands of the reviewer.A reviewer can either bring you down or lift you up. Therefore, there is a need for reviewers to polite and honest as they do their work.Some reviewer recommendations and comments can be very bad. In September 2005, I submitted my first ever paper to a very eminent journal (name withheld for obvious reasons). The review process was pretty fast such that by early December of the same year, I received the review results. The paper was rejected. The editors further told me that competition was stiff. They had received 55 manuscripts but they had to accept only 15 of them. Being my maiden journal paper, I knew that it had some weaknesses and that its chances to get accepted were not very high. When I heard that it was rejected, I did not care that much simply because I already had two conference papers accepted by that time and I was well on course to finish my MScEng studies in good time. But one of the reviewers destroyed my December 2005 and January 2006.

The paper was reviewed by two people. Both of them rejected it. The first reviewer was honest and very polite in his language. This reviewer did a great work. He pointed out the weaknesses in my paper and made great comments concerning the required improvements. He also pointed out some positive aspects of my paper. These comments helped me to refine the paper such that it was later accepted for the IEEE World Congress on Computational Intelligence, the premier event in Computational Intelligence. The second reviewer’s comments were awful. His language was very bad. He did not pick out any positive thing out of my paper. He blew my weaknesses out of proportion. He portrayed me as a person who cannot do any meaningful research. His attacks were too personal. To make matters worse, he printed his full name on the review form.Whether this was a mistake or by design, I do not know up to now. Reviewers are supposed to hide their identity. Sometimes, I think that this guy “dismantled” me like that simply because he was seeing my name and that of my supervisor for the first time in the Computational Intelligence arena. Though my supervisor is an experienced researcher, his major research area is not Computational Intelligence, but Computer Engineering. If our names were well known in this field, the situation would have been different. I also think that this esteemed reviewer might as well have been looking down upon us as authors from Africa. This gave him a license to “kill” us. He probably might have been asking himself this question. Can anything good come from Africa? Although he damaged my Christmas and New Year, I do not have any grudge against him because, as a Christian, all things, whether bad or good, work together for my own good. But in order to avoid cases like the one that I went through, it would be great if double blind reviews can be used for technical papers. Double blind reviews entail that both the reviewer and the author must not know each other. This will help to ensure fairness. The “Can anything good come from Africa?” syndrome will have no place. Reviews where only the identity of the reviewer is hidden from the author are known as single blind reviews.

UPDATE: I recently stumbled on some excellent guidelines for reviewing journal papers on Professor Leigh Thompson‘s site. These guidelines are well detailed and very clear. I don’t have to list them here. Just follow the link to Professor Thompson’s site. But please make sure that you come back here because I still have a number of great posts which you have not yet read 🙂