How Reviewing Works at RHM

Recently, the editing team held a "coffee chat" at the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine Symposium. For that event, co-editor Kim Hensley Owens prepared this video , which offers an overview and tips for those interested in reviewing for the journal. 


We deeply value our reviewers’ time, our authors’ time, and our own time, too. We’ve worked hard to create a system that’s respectful of everyone’s labor and identities. Most RHM reviewers are fantastic–the majority respond quickly, follow guidelines, and offer extremely generous, detailed reviews full of advice and resources, no matter what decision they ultimately suggest.

Review Process

Before we solicit reviews, we read through the article and examine the references to see if there are specific reviewers that seem to make the most sense. Then we look at the keywords and see how they match up with reviewer keywords in our database, and begin to solicit reviewers.

The RHM website says that decisions about whether to send a manuscript out for review will usually be made within two weeks of submission. It’s often well under that.

The website says publication decisions will usually be made within six to eight weeks after a manuscript is sent for review. We achieve that goal more often than not, with the help of timely reviewers who meet the four-week deadline, journal software, our own frequent checks and reminders. But that timeline is only possible if all reviewers do their part by responding to requests and completing honest, on-time reviews.

Tips for Writing a Strong Review

The strongest reviewers do the following: 

  • approach authors as human beings first
  • compose the review with mentoring and guiding the author in mind
  • adhere to vital anti-racist and anti-ableist principles
  • shows evidence of a thorough and engaged read of the manuscript
  • Follow RHM category guidance for feedback and decisions

A bit of Golden Rule advice applies for reviewing, which is to say: write the review you would want to receive. To us, that review is one that deeply engages with the author’s work, celebrates moments of success, specifically identifies areas of weakness or concern, expects excellence in all reviewing categories, and helps the author create a roadmap to achieve that excellent status. Paragraph-long reviews that dismiss the work don’t help much, nor do several-page diatribes with extremely detailed style advice--typically, strong reviews are 2-3 single-spaced pages and specifically engage with and answer the questions posed in our reviewing guidelines.

Critical elements for a smooth review process
  1. Timely Communication

  • Respond promptly in the system to a review request

  • Meet deadlines

  • Reach out if you need more

  1. Honesty

We value kind and honest reviews. A “nice” review of work that isn’t a good fit or  needs a lot of revision isn’t helpful and can lead to our needing to solicit an additional review, which adds more labor for everyone and, critically, more wait time for authors.

  1. Following Guidelines


When a review is requested, it comes with specific guidelines for anti-racist reviewing, RHM categories for the review [see “RHM Review Categories” below, and what RHM decision categories mean. 

Reviewing Guidelines

RHM review requests include anti-racist review guidelines and RHM review guidelines. 

Anti-Racist Review Guidelines

Many anti-racist guidelines were already built into the ethos of RHM reviewing guidelines below; we reinforce in this context the following anti-racist review practices:


  • Provide generative suggestions and mentoring to authors on how to frame articles within the context of relevant conversations taking place in the field.
  • Identify when manuscripts are purposefully pushing the boundaries of the field and encourage authors to make a strong(er) case for doing so.
  • Recognize that authors may draw upon methods and lived experiences that can act as equally-valuable academic approaches for conducting research beyond expected and dominant forms of data collection.
  • Understand authors may intentionally omit citing certain authors because of previous oppressive and harmful actions.
  • Recommend work by multiply marginalized, under-represented (MMU) scholars that may be helpful for authors’ arguments.
  • Note when authors should follow APA style guidelines on using inclusive language.


RHM Review Guidelines  Appropriateness

The manuscript should clearly relate to the journal’s aims and scope. If the manuscript seems to fall outside the journal’s aims and scope, please consider providing generative suggestions and mentoring to authors on how to frame articles within the context of relevant conversations taking place in the field. It may also be appropriate to identify if the manuscript is purposefully pushing the boundaries of this scope. In such cases it may be appropriate to encourage authors to make a strong case for doing so.


We want RHM to be a forum in which methodology, in the more expansive meaning of this term, is foregrounded. This means that manuscripts should address the values, methods, and practices of enacting a particular methodology, and provide a strong rationale for the methodology used. Manuscripts discussing mixed methodologies drawing from multiple research traditions should clarify the roles of rhetoric in such methodologies. Authors may draw upon methods such as (auto)ethnographic methods and lived experiences that can act as equally rigorous approaches for conducting research beyond expected and dominant forms of data collection in the fields of rhetoric, technical communication, and health and medicine.

Situating and Use of Sources

Because RHM will be instrumental in shaping conversations in our area, the manuscript’s contributions to such conversations should be appropriately and thoroughly situated. The manuscript should meaningfully and accurately cite relevant literature, and at least some of these citations should enable a rhetorical orientation. The manuscript should not include an excess of long quotes.


Please keep in mind as well that citation practices are political. Although it is important to ask authors to include canonical citations, recognize that authors may be choosing to intentionally omit citing certain authors because of previous oppressive and harmful actions. Equally as important, do recommend work by MMU scholars that may be helpful for authors’ arguments.


The manuscript should contribute a substantive addition to or extension of research in the rhetoric of health and medicine. It should make new topical, theoretical, and/or methodological contributions to the field.

Clarity, Accuracy, and Nuance of Argument

The manuscript should make a clear, appropriately qualified, and well supported argument (or arguments); controversial arguments are welcome. The argument should address any questionable assumptions and should demonstrate a careful and nuanced understanding of the topic. The manuscript’s parts should relate to the larger argument.


In making suggestions about this, please keep in mind that we want the journal to publish recognizable and valued forms of scholarship but also to push the boundaries of what such scholarship can look like, particularly if it involves an innovative methodology, multi-layered analysis, a blending of narrative and analysis, collaborative or multilingual writing, and/or multimedia forms of presentation. Creative forms might be especially appropriate for some types of dialogues and for studies that include participant voices.


Even if it takes a less conventional form, the manuscript should be well organized, and the organizational scheme should be evident (and in most cases be forecasted toward the beginning). Headings and subheadings are encouraged. The relationships among the manuscript’s sections and ideas should be clear, and it should connect sections with strong transitions.

Accessibility and Style

The manuscript should, whenever possible, avoid unnecessary jargon and explain terms with which some readers are unlikely to be familiar. Active style and a strong authorial voice and point of view are encouraged. Manuscripts should adhere to guidelines on inclusive language. 

Please let the author(s) know where they may need to incorporate inclusive language when describing marginalized individuals or groups. 


RHM Decision Categories

Reviewers have four options for decision category recommendations.

RHM uses slightly different categories than many journals. The four categories are: 

  • Accept with revisions
  • Revisions requested
  • Resubmit for Review
  • Reject

“Accept with Revisions” means only minor revisions are required to make the piece publishable. 

“Revisions Requested” means the piece holds strong promise for publication, and that while significant changes are needed, they don’t require a re-imagining or the piece. This is the middle ground decision between requesting minor and major revisions.  

“Resubmit for Review” means the piece hold promise for publication, but requires a major revision, which might require a re-envisioning, a change to methodology, framework, connection to scholarly conversations, etc. 

“Reject” means the piece is determined to be inappropriate for the journal, substantially underdeveloped, or not making significant contributions to the field’s knowledge. 

We value generous, generative reviews, and explicitly seek to mentor our authors and potential authors. At the same time, we do work to ensure high quality work appears in the journal. While academic reviewers are notoriously overly negative, we find more often at RHM challenges with reviewers who are kind to the point of dissembling, writing an encouraging, positive message to the author, sometimes even with a recommendation to publish, and another to just the editors with a suggestion that we decline the piece. We very much believe in kind, honest, helpful reviews, and believe a clear, well-justified rejection with advice for revisions moving forward–either toward another journal or a fully re-imagined piece for RHM–does the author more good in the long run than a disingenuous response to a piece that isn’t close to ready.

The majority of our submissions that go out for review earn a “Resubmit for Review” response. Established, even prominent, scholars earn this decision from RHM as often as newer scholars, because reviewers often see what authors cannot–and the beauty of peer review is how much stronger work gets with revisions after review. We always try to send revisions to the same reviewers first, only soliciting new reviewers if the original reviewers aren’t available or become reviewer ghosts.

Decision Process

Once we editors get two reviews, we read them, revisit the piece, and discuss the reviews. If two reviewers have the same response, and we agree, it’s relatively straightforward to write a decision letter. We offer our own feedback and help the author prioritize revision advice from the two reviews. We send our own decision, a timeline for next steps, and include the reviews we received. That said, we have, very infrequently, excerpted reviews to send to authors instead of sending the entire review–that kind of editing occurs when reviewers make assumptions about the author’s age or identity (“This reads like a seminar paper” to a senior scholar, for example), or when an aspect of the review is potentially damaging to the author.

When reviews are split in adjacent categories, our own review leads us to align with one or the other. When reviews are split in non-adjacent categories, the decision becomes a bit more complicated, and our own reviews of the piece, along with the detail and quality of each review, help us determine whether we side with one or another reviewer or another decision category. We have seen splits across all categories--yes, even a “reject” and an “accept.”

When reviews are split, it’s often because one reviewer admits feeling tentative about their take--they write as much in their notes to us. We want to encourage everyone considering reviewing to feel confident about their assessments. If you’re accepting reviews on manuscripts where you have some expertise/familiarity with the topic and/or the methogological and rhetorical underpinnings of a piece, are reading carefully, engaging kindly but critically, and following the anti-racist and RHM guidelines, you’re doing what’s asked. We’ll do the rest!

Two Closing Pieces of Advice for Reviewers/Potential Reviewers:

Please don’t feel guilty if you decide to recommend we reject a piece–rejection is part of publication, and it can be a valuable step in the evolution of a piece. I know one scholar who won a national award for a piece that was accepted after it was revised and resubmitted as a new submission--prior to that it had been revised based on feedback from a rejection after a previous revise-and-resumit (all from a different journal, not RHM-- the point is the process). The best work takes *time* and that’s okay.

While we very much value on-time reviews, we understand that life happens. We can extend review deadlines by a week or two if you need more time. Just send us the new date that works, and please don’t feel obligated to explain the life circumstances behind the extension request. 


Finally, A Gentle Plea: Please Don’t Be A Reviewer Ghost

One of the most time-consuming aspects of editing the journal is dealing with responses or reviews that never come--which we call “reviewer ghosts”     . When a potential reviewer doesn’t respond within a week, we remind them, and if they don’t respond again, we start all over and ask another reviewer. It is much, much simpler if we get a fast no than no response at all. Similarly, if a reviewer doesn’t meet a deadline or communicate about needing an extension, we send a reminder, then wait, then send another. It’s almost always better for the author and for us to extend a deadline than to start over, but if there is no response to multiple reminders, we have to start the reviewer solicitation process over. These “reviewer ghosts”       can cause months-long delays for our authors, so please log into the system soon after receiving a request and let us know one way or another. Please don’t be a reviewer ghost     !    


Thanks so much, everyone–truly, the journal only works because reviewers do!


Here is a link to the slides used for the 2023 RHM Symposium presentation about this!