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I have received a request to referee a paper submitted to a journal I hadn't been aware of before. The paper is in my area of expertise, and I've been working in the field for a few years and read arXiv & major journals (nobody I know has published there, as far as I know). Though to be fair it is published by Springer Nature and has an impact factor of about 2.5.

I'm reluctant to accept the request, because (i) it would cost me time, (ii) I never read the journal, (iii) the abstract is badly written (grammar mistakes, and it's of the form "We use standard methods to calculate some properties about a standard system, which have been discovered in many slight variations before").

Is it okay to reject review in this case? I'm afraid that my judgement may be off.

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    Is it okay to reject review in this case? It’s okay to reject review in any case. It is a voluntary activity. If you don’t want to do it for whatever reason, it’s okay, and while it’s good to have solid reasons for your refusal, it’s not necessary to have them or to disclose them to anyone if you do have them. – Dan Romik Jul 9 '19 at 2:35
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Let's examine the three reasons you give one by one:

  1. Reviewing would certainly cost you time. If you don't have time available, or if you need the time to do something else, then decline and give that as a reason. The editor would understand. If you do have time available, then why not?
  2. I don't find this a good reason to decline. There'll always be things one has never heard of before. For example, would you attend a colloquium at your institute if it's given by a person you've never heard of before? Even if you don't read the journal and never intend to, it doesn't mean you can't help.
  3. This is a good reason to decline. Of course if you can give more details it'd be good - something like "this paper uses standard methods [already used in this ref, this ref, this ref ...] to study this standard system [already studied in this ref, this ref, this ref ...]". You don't have to actually accept the request and then turn in a reject review: if you decline to review and give this reason, there's a good chance the editor will reject the manuscript.

In the end though it's up to you. You shouldn't feel like you're obliged to review the manuscript. If you lack the time or the motivation to review, you should absolutely decline instead of submit a weak review.

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  • Reviewers are commonly asked to evaluate if a manuscript is appropriate for the specific journal and its audience, not just whether it's appropriate for them personally (which would be the point of attending the colloquium, presumably). – A Simple Algorithm Jul 9 '19 at 1:14
  • Great analysis! [Repeating with emphasis.] (1) is always reasonable. Don't torture yourself, just decide yes/no. (2) Journal sounds decent. Good way to get exposed to something--who knows maybe you submit there in future or have some other association with it. (3) Yeah, if the thing is a mess (or trivial) just politely say short words to that effect, but that you won't do entire review. If anything I judge the writing issue as more a problem since the world actually can use "datapoint" papers, at appropriate rank journals. But the writing shows it's not really review-ready (IMNSHO). – guest Jul 10 '19 at 17:24
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I would recommend you have a look: If the submission is as bad as it looks, you will not have to devote much time to it anyways. Someone has to do some refereeing else nobody would referee my papers so my rule of thumb is: I referee as many papers in a year as the number of referees needed to review my work that year.

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  • +1 Thank you for your response, this is a helpful thought and guideline. – Daniel Jul 11 '19 at 15:47

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