[something nice here]

A number of my classes in graduate school incorporated peer review. It was “practice” for when we were further entrenched in the big, bad world of academia and would have to write real reviews. Now that I am a full-fledged member of that world, and responsible for reviewing a variety of papers, I’m thinking that the “practice” wasn’t as helpful as I hoped it would be.

I used to write nasty reviews. We all did. We wanted to show the professors how smart we were and how other students’ work clearly wasn’t up to par. There were no hard feelings. That was what we though being a grad student was all about.

Well, now that I’ve actually read real reviews of my own work and listened to enough Q&As, I just can’t be as nasty as I once was. I make a conscious effort to pepper this “constructive criticism” with niceties. However, I haven’t yet figured out how to write it that way. Instead, I sit down like this morning and let the nastiness “constructive criticism” pour out of me and actually put inserts in the review text of [something nice here] so that I don’t lose my train of thought. That way, when it comes time to re-read the review and make sure it’s constructive before sending it out, I’m sure to slip a little niceness in there.

I’m working on this with questions, too. I envy those who have perfected the sandwich technique [strength] [criticism] [nicety]. I think I’ll start practicing it with my kid to get the hang of it. “I really like your coloring there. Your violet oak tree shows a creative use of the color purple. If I could just make one comment: Maybe you should work on staying between the lines. You might also reconsider the use of crayons. Markers may be a more effective tool in this case. This is quite interesting, though. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

7 thoughts on “[something nice here]”

  1. Being a conference ligger, and having just started another undergrad degree in sociology at an mature student’s college, I’m thinking of setting up cribs for my fellow classmates. I’m hoping this might help get us into the habit of engaging with texts instead of belittling every social theorists are lecturers show to us, because it goes against our 40 years of being a guardian-reading marxist. Now, it sounds like that wouldn’t be a good idea at all…


  2. I don’t know if I’m a nasty reviewer, but I don’t include enough positives in with the things that I wish the reviewer would do differently. As with so much else, I am Working On This.


  3. I go back on forth on the niceness thing. Not the general principle of Don’t Be an Asshole so much as the ritualized niceness of I liked this, I liked that, etc. The story goes that Pierre Bourdieu used to do an impression of two American sociologists trying to disagree with one another.


  4. In fact, it did go both ways. Sometimes the participatnts were confronted with harsh criticism from the outside experts, and in other cases the comments on participants’ papers were very *nice* and harmless. But it might also be, because in a graduate school named “Märkte und Sozialräume in Europa” (translates: Markets and social spheres in Europe) participants from five differnt academic disciplines worked together we did have to make some efforts to find a common language.


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