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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Annals of Peer Review

[Details changed to protect anonymity]

I reviewed an article a few years ago that was almost all summary. It spoke with a firm voice of authority, giving a very good and readable summary of a non-fiction book by a Peruvian novelist. The article, however, was rejected because it didn't have a critical argument apart from the summary. The quotes from the novelist were lengthy, but the author of the article didn't really analyze them. Normally, I like a lack of signposting, but in this case there was no introduction, no conclusion, no sense that there were three (or four) main points to be made. The summary just went seamlessly through the book and explained all of it. We never found out what the author of the article really thought about anything. There was no independent critical voice or separation between the the voice of author and critic. We never found out why the non-fiction work was important, or why a non-specialist author should care about any of it.

There are many ways to go wrong. Unhappy articles come in many forms and shapes. The complete lack of effort to frame an article is very unusual, but it can also happen.

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