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I apologize if this question has been asked before. I received a peer-review invitation from a journal to review a paper. In the email there is just the author's name and the title of the article and an abstract. I should just tell them if I accept to review the paper or not by clicking on corresponding links.

Is it normal to ask the journal to send the entire paper before accepting to review it? Isn't this request odd? I am potentially interested to review the paper (from the abstract, I guess I am familiar with the methods), but I would like to see the content to be sure if the methods used in the paper aren't beyond my knowledge and to check if I have enough time to review the paper (e.g., to avoid a surprise manuscript of > 150 pages!) If that matters, the subject is mathematics.

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    I don't answer because I'm not familiar with mathematics, but all journals I'm familiar with, when sending review invitations, send also a link to the full paper, allowing the potential reviewer to download it. I would consider the request to see the full paper quite normal. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 1 '18 at 13:43
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    @MassimoOrtolano As an applied mathematician, it has happened to me a few times to receive a review invitation without a link to the full paper, just the title and abstract. But I would say it's below 5% of the invitations I receive. – Federico Poloni Jan 1 '18 at 18:37
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    Have you tried googling the paper? Maybe it can be found on the arXiv. – Michael Greinecker Jan 1 '18 at 23:10
  • @MichaelGreinecker Yes I have checked the arxiv and googled the paper. I have also visited the author website. The paper is not there. – user85275 Jan 2 '18 at 5:00
  • Not exactly your situation but it happened to me to contact (very soon) the editor saying that after a look at the entire ms I was not able to do an accurate review. In few other cases I made explicit that I was not able to safely review part or paragraph and he/she should make sure that at least another referee went through it. – Alchimista Jan 2 '18 at 11:57
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It is rather common in mathematics to have access to the full paper before deciding to review (it is attached or a link is provided). You could basically use what you wrote here as the basis for your reply. I specifically mean the phrase:

I am potentially interested to review the paper, but I would like to see the content to be sure if the methods used in the paper aren't beyond my knowledge.

I would just ask for the full paper with this reasoning.

Only make sure to decide whether you are willing to review in a timely manner after you received the full paper.

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    It's definitely fair to ask as suggested here. But I'll also note that I know several math journals that don't send the whole paper, just the abstract. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 1 '18 at 18:34
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    @Wolfgang: It has happened to me once or twice (out of maybe 75-100 total referee requests) that they haven't sent me the paper. Each time I have asked for it in order to make my decision and they had no problem sending it to me. A math paper could be 3 pages long or 100 pages long. Just because you are an expert in the subject of the paper does not mean you will necessarily be able to understand all the technology used in this particular paper. So the practice of not looking at a math paper before you agree to referee it seems like a really poor one to me.... – Pete L. Clark Jan 2 '18 at 14:12
  • ...I wonder whether there is any justification for it. I myself can't remember what these one or two journals were. So I'd be curious if you could name journals that have this practice and/or if you have any insight into it or defense of it. – Pete L. Clark Jan 2 '18 at 14:14
  • @PeteL.Clark: I'm not defending the idea, I'm just saying that such journals exist :-) Computer Methods in Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (CMAME) appears to be one of them. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 2 '18 at 20:45
  • I think that not sending the full paper is more common in Computer Science. I'm an associate editor for a respected journal that initially only sends abstracts, not full papers. – Nathan S. Jan 3 '18 at 16:30
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I gather from other answers that the norm in math is to send the entire paper when requesting a peer review. By contrast, in the fields I'm familiar with (generally, biology/molecular biology) it's the opposite; peer review requests send the title and authors, and often but not always the abstract; never (or very rarely) the full paper.

I assume that one reason is to avoid conflict of interest awkwardness. Editors presumably don't want to accidentally send the full description of a project to someone who is directly competing.

Edit to add a possible difference from math: I have the impression that math peer reviews are much more time-consuming than in biology, and that a peer review involves basically working through the entire paper oneself. That's rarely possible in biology (I can't take five years and 5000 mice to repeat a set of transgenic mouse experiments) so my peer reviews might take a few hours to a couple of days, and I don't need to see the paper to judge how much of a commitment I'm making.

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    Uh, interesting. I am used to have directly competing groups (in applied maths) to review papers on a regular basis. They are best to judge what's going on in this very topic. But these groups also tend to share their knowledge in conferences and sometimes even the visit each other. Its a friendly competition. – usr1234567 Jan 1 '18 at 22:41
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    I'd guess that a large percentage in my fields are the same, cooperative and open, but there's a significant minority that are not. And that minority may include the same people who are open -- labs may have four projects they're open about, but one they'd rather not share; or they might be willing to share with ten labs, but have been burnt by one that they don't want to deal with again. It's complicated, and editors don't know and don't need to know all the personal and professional interactions out there. – iayork Jan 2 '18 at 13:19
  • One comment about math: you should be able to tell from the abstract of a math paper whether it is of enough potential interest to you to justify reading any further. You usually cannot tell from an abstract how well you will be able to understand the paper. I am a bit skeptical that this would definitively not be an issue in other STEM fields as well, but I suppose they manage to make it work somehow. (Another difference in math: there is frequently only one referee, so they had better actually understand the paper.) – Pete L. Clark Jan 2 '18 at 14:24
  • I do think this is different in some other fields (I can't say "definitively" though). I can generally tell from an abstract if I'll be interested in a paper, and if I'll be able to understand it. Perhaps this is part of the whole "re-derive the whole thing" approach in math? I probably wouldn't be able to hands-on replicate an entire paper even if I have a good enough grasp of the concepts to critique the techniques. – iayork Jan 2 '18 at 15:36
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I referee in math. I would never accept an assignment without first seing the whole article. And, over many years, I have always been offered to see the manuscript, both when asked by email directly by an editor, and also when receiving an automated invitation.

Are you sure there is no link in the email to see the article?

  • Yes, I am sure, there is no link. I even visited the submission site of the journal. They only offer an abstract. If I accept to review, then I can see the whole article. – user85275 Jan 1 '18 at 18:21
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    My initial suggestion would be then to reject the invitation. If you have strong reasons to accept (either by being very close to the area, or in need to build your reviewing reputation), maybe you can get to read an Arxiv version of the article? – Martin Argerami Jan 1 '18 at 18:49
  • Unfortunately the paper is not on arxiv. – user85275 Jan 2 '18 at 5:01
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    Well, if you think you are an otherwise plausible referee, you may as well write to the editor and ask to see the paper. I have done this before, and they've said yes. – Pete L. Clark Jan 2 '18 at 14:26
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Yes in every engineering manuscript I have reviewed I had access to the full manuscript before making the decision about whether or not to review. Standard ethics apply (you can't use your advance knowledge of the manuscript contents for nefarious purposes)

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