Battle Hymn of the Tiger Editor: Introducing the Coached peer review for FOAM

In Mentorship by Teresa Chan4 Comments

In July of 2014, I took over BoringEM from Brent Thoma for the year, and boy, has it been a whirlwind! There have been a lot of changes: we’ve increased our team size, developed an editorial board, created a staff reviewing panel… and we’re on track to more than double our pageviews in the 2014-2015 year.

After 6 months of innovation, we have roughly settled on a formula for fostering and supporting new talent, and opening new opportunities for involving more junior voices in the FOAM world. As managing editor, I think it is important to explain what we’ve been up to with these revisions to our editorial process. This piece is one part declaration, one part explanation, and a whole lot of reflection…


Some personal history

In 2011, Amy Chua wrote the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” which detailed the trials and tribulations of raising children based on super high standards and strict rules of conduct. At roughly the same time, she penned a highly controversial article which, at least on my Facebook wall, quickly went viral. Although the validity of Chua’s s parenting strategies have been questioned by more recent studies, both her book and article resonated with me in a way that they probably only can with people who have Tiger Parents.

As a first generation Canadian born to immigrant Chinese parents, Amy Chua’s writing definitely struck a chord with me. And yes, to complete the stereotype, I did do Kumon math after school and play piano. ,If you ask my mom, however, she’ll tell you she was not a classic ‘Tiger Mother’… After all, I played multiple sports, I got to be in school plays (and write/direct them!), watch TV (at least on weekends), and I participate in whatever extracurriculars I wanted to do (so long as my school work did not suffer). So yes, I was not subject to the ‘classical’ Tiger parenting, but probably some derivative that, now that I am older, I have grown to appreciate.

Much like Amy Chua, my mother used to sit next to me and supervise my piano practising. As an Emergency Physician now, it has become apparent to me that my attention tends to wonder. My mother’s solution to this was to augment my own short attention span with hers. She would sit for all thirty minutes of my practise to provide support as I suffered through the agonizing exercises that would ensure improvement before my next piano lesson.

What I learned from the many years of my mother sitting by my side at the piano is that sometimes it is important to know that you have support, even though you may not be perfect. Sometimes it takes a dedicated companion with a keen, critical eye to bring out the best in you.

What does this have to do with editing?

Flash forward to my PGY5 year, when I was first asked to be a reviewer for a peer reviewed publication. Sure, earlier that year I had been granted my first publication in that same journal… but why was I suddenly entrusted to be a reviewer of someone else’s work? I had first authored all of… 2 articles… Ever. And now some editor was entrusting me with the fate of someone else’s hard work?

Needless to say, I immediately hit Google to research how to be a good peer reviewer. I also asked some journal-editor mentors about how to write a great review. Somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that being a good peer reviewer meant thinking of yourself as a dedicated companion seeking to bring out the best in someone else’s work using a keen, critical eye. I try to think of each review as a chance to provide guidance and a new perspective. Sometimes, it may mean spotting issues with logic or flow. Other times, it may be more substantial. I may need to take a step back and really look at a paper’s data to excavate that diamond in the rough that is just peeking out between tables 3 & 4…

When I review for journals, I review with the mind to find that hidden gem. I want to find a way to make that article sparkle and shine. Just as my mother never took any credit for having provided me feedback about my piano skills, I am happy to see the pieces I edit come out in print – hopefully having been improved by some of my suggestions.

The skills needed to provide this sort of behind-the-scenes support this were never taught to me in my time as a junior academician, but I think they are important for future academics.

And so, this year, as I had the opportunity to re-envision the BoringEM review process, I took time to think… How could we take some elements of ‘Tigerness’ and integrate that into the FOAM blogosphere?


Staring Down The Eye of the Tiger

For most junior writers, the FOAM world is a daunting place. I confess that I did not feel ‘safe’ enough to venture into the FOAM world until I was a fully qualified EM doc with an FRCPC to hang behind my name.

That said, the FOAM world should be an elitist, twitterati-driven clique. Other bloggers have previously written that they are worried that FOAM will replicate the lecture circuit and reproduce its failings. Personally, I have always been a big fan of that little girl who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes upon his body (and I still like to count myself as one of those kids sometimes…). I think there is great merit in having a flattened environment where junior and senior colleagues can learn together. To maintain this sort of environment and avoid hierarchical cliques, we have to develop a way to welcome and foster new contributors.

As an educator, I like to support learners as they take leaps of faith. I do my best to either 1) jump with them, or 2) act as the invisible safety net so that they can experience the thrill of jumping without truly being in harm’s way.

With this philosophy in mind, BoringEM has pioneered a new form of peer reviewing in the learning environment: The Coached Review Process.

Derived from ALiEM’s expert peer review process, BoringEM has endorsed the belief that we can turn out our best work only if the pre-publication process contains critique and revision. Yes, we believe that FOAM can provide post-publication peer review, and we welcome it. ,For learners post-publication peer review can be scary (we all know that FOAMites are not shy about pointing out mistakes! What if they say something wrong?) As such, in July we launched our new coached pre-publication peer review process. Unlike traditional journals which have a 10-15% acceptance rate, our default editorial setting is not “no.” In fact, in the past six months, we have not turned away a single submission. Rather, we have taken the stance that the FOAM world should be truly open and accessible –not just to readers, but to even the most junior producers of content. Our default answer is a “yes…” but that yes is accompanied with the full weight of a rigorous double-whammy peer review process for all learners.


So, what does that mean?

Our philosophy translates into the following: each piece that is submitted to us (details found here) undergoes a process that guides our writers through the development of their pieces.

First, junior writers are given a form that provides a ‘scaffold’ upon which they can pitch their ideas for review by our editorial team. After the idea has been vetted they are encouraged to begin writing.

Upon submission of their first draft, writers are assigned both a peer reviewer (a student or resident editor) and a staff reviewer (a staff physician who has volunteered to review learner-authored content for BoringEM). Their material is then rigorously vetted by both reviewers in a no-holds-barred manner, with the primary objective of providing constructive critique and unlimited numbers of re-writes and revisions prior to release of BoringEM blog posts.

The Coached Review process is meant to improve individual pieces, but to also help junior writers become more cognizant of key content or stylistic elements that might improve their current and future pieces. As a corollary, we hope to foster a culture around peer review that, rather than being adversarial, fosters the idea that every piece has a diamond in the rough, and it is our job as editors to help find it and polish it till it shines.



We know that the FOAM world pride itself on its post-publication peer review process. ,The BoringEM editorial team feels, however, that it is crucial to create a system where junior contributors feel supported By applying the best practices of Tiger-editing, we hope to create an environment where junior bloggers can thrive, supported by reviewers and editors happy to stand beside them supportively when their writing is released into the wild.

Whether you are a learner or a seasoned physician, there is a role for you to play in this process. If you would like to contribute content or do some Tiger-editing of your own, we would love to hear from you (contact us via email here). We also encourage a more formal adoption of this editorial style across the #FOAMed world so if you think it has merit, please share it broadly.


Teresa Chan

Senior Editor at CanadiEM
Emergency Physician. Medical Educator. #FOAMed Supporter, Producer and Researcher. Chief Strategy Officer of CanadiEM. Associate Professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Medicine, McMaster University.
BoringEM has been 'bringing the boring' to emergency medicine since 2012. In 2016 this Canadian blog brought its content to CanadiEM.