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Please delete it if it is not allowed, since this is more like a follow-up question. I am curious about "review papers that you're well qualified to evaluate." Marcus, can you specify a bit further how you understand "being well qualified" here?

For example, if I am asked to review a paper on a topic in my AOS, and while I have a basic understanding of the topic, I have not kept up with the on-going discussions, do you think I am well qualified as a reviewer?

I usually say no to such requests. I feel like I am not well qualified as a reviewer. However, since I work at a teaching-oriented school and only have time to keep up with on-going discussions in a fairly narrow area, I have only reviewed 2-3 papers in a couple of years. I wonder if I should do more.

Chivers Butler

Re: G's question

Might it it be appropriate to accept with a caveat (e.g., by writing to the editor accepting the request while making explicit that one is not well-placed to comment on whether the paper is appropriately responsive to recent literature)? Provided that the editor can ensure that the other reviewer is well-placed, this shouldn't be a problem. My guess is that editors would welcome this kind of acceptance over a rejection, for it may save them considerable time.


I usually do about one journal paper per month, plus a bunch of papers and abstracts for 3-4 conferences per year, and a book manuscript maybe every other year. I've also done a fair amount of grant reviewing recently, and I scaled back the journal reviewing when I was doing the grants. I usually accept requests when they are either pretty interesting to me or when I am in a position to do them relatively fast. I don't usually have more than two open requests, so I can meet whatever deadline is given by the journal. I tend to write between 1 and 2 pages of comments. I want to explain the main reasons for my verdict, but I am not going to give the author detailed comments like I would for a grad student. I write the most detailed comments for R&Rs.

William Vanderburgh

I think the right answer, especially as a pre-tenured person, is to review only as much as does not prevent you from carrying out a robust research program of your own. Burying yourself in reviewing can seem virtuous, but it can also be a mode of procrastination and avoidance.

Overseas Tenured

As a rule of thumb, I try to review twice as many papers per year as the number of times I submitted something to a journal that year. The rationale is that papers usually get assigned to two referees (sometimes more; sometimes only one, or they are desk rejected), so x submissions per year generate around 2x reviews. Doing 2x reviews then more or less makes up for the amount of refereeing work one imposes on the system by submitting papers.

This is the default; but I think it's OK for pre-tenure and especially non-TT folks to do a bit less less, and tenured professors in cushy, low-teaching-load positions could certainly stand to do more. Sadly, it's often exactly the other way round.

Shay Logan

I generally try to give as many referee reports in a year as I expect to get. So if I expect to send out five papers and expect each to be refereed twice, I feel like I should referee at least ten papers. In practice, I go a bit higher than this---after I do the amount of refereeing I feel I *ought* to do, I then do, in addition, all the refereeing I actually *want* to do. And, invariably a few incredibly interesting papers get sent my way after my 'quota' has been filled.

Marcus Arvan

Hi G: sorry for the delay in responding. I'm running a workshop this week in addition to teaching, so I haven't had much spare time.

To answer your question ('can you specify a bit further how you understand "being well qualified" here?'), I don't have a simple answer. I think it's pretty much a judgment call. If I'm really up to date on a given literature, then I feel pretty confident. If, on the other hand, a paper is broadly in my AOS (ethics, political, etc.) but in a niche area that I don't really work in and haven't followed super closely, then I may be less confident.

How do I handle these cases? Again, I don't have a precise formula--but I personally find it to be very helpful when journals permit me to review the paper itself (as opposed to merely an abstract) before I make a decision. If, for example, I preview the paper and (given my background) it seems to me to have fairly obvious problems, then I may elect to review it, as I will feel well-positioned to comment on those potential problems (even if, let's say, I'm not 100% up to date with the literature). Conversely, if I preview a paper and I *don't* see any obvious problems--if it seems interesting and generally well-argued, but I'm not a super expert in the area--then it's a more difficult decision. Depending on the case, I may choose to review it (if I find the paper really interesting), or alternatively, think I should 'punt' it (as it were) by saying no and hoping the editor chooses another referee with more expertise.

Again, I think the details matter a lot here, and it's a case by case basis. I try to err on the side of, "Would I be doing right by the author--and editor--by taking this assignment on, or, based on a quick read of the paper, I am not so sure?" If the later, I may decline the invitation. I don't want to inadvertently be 'reviewer #2' by taking on an assignment that I'm not fit to evaluate... ;)


Hi Marcus, thank you so much for the response. It is really helpful!


Dear all, I just wanted to say thanks so much for the responses (and for the link to the previous discussion...sorry for missing that earlier!). All of this has been super helpful.

Marcus Arvan

OP: glad we could help!

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