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Does anybody have advice on how you draw a line in the sand of when you're "too busy" to review a manuscript that an editor has requested you to review? We're all busy all the time. How do you find the balance between accepting all requests and rejecting all requests?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the manuscript is actually a good fit to your area of expertise.

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  • I know there's also the camp that rejects requests on principle that the publishing companies should be paying us for their profits. I'll leave that on the side burner at the moment for the sake of this question...
    – CephBirk
    Dec 27, 2023 at 4:03
  • This will absolutely depend on your personal factors: what other commitments you have at this time and their deadlines, how much time you typically spend on a manuscript (and how much you are likely to spend on this manuscript, as judged by the abstract), how interesting you find the paper, whether this is a journal or editor you want to invest some time in, and so forth. In the end, it is not that much different from the decision process for any other responsibility you may be pondering to accept. Dec 27, 2023 at 7:41

3 Answers 3

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On average, a conference paper receives more than two reviews. A journal paper in a reputable journal about three. Thus, if you and your group submit x papers per year, you are morally obliged to accept > 3x review requests. If you do not, then you are a free-loader.

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    Shouldn't this be 3x/(size of group)? Dec 28, 2023 at 14:48
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    And while I agree that if you do less than this you are a net burden to the system, I do not understand the assertion about moral obligation. Dec 28, 2023 at 14:49
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A number of principles help:

  1. do I submit to this venue/journal? If so, you are expected to generously review for them (depending on the number of reviews, some 1.5 times of the reviews you are getting from them. E.g. if you get 3 reviews per submission, you should be ready to do ~5. Some sought-after conferences require 8 reviews; I carry them out)
  2. do I find the work interesting? That's a good selector, as the likelihood of good quality reviews will increase and it forces you to read the work in detail, not just on a high level.
  3. a few times a year, I do "charity" reviews for things in which I have expertise in, but am not so interested in doing. This is a way to pay back to the community.

You may have additional criteria and feel free to suggest them. I might add them to the response if they convince me.

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I do reviews strictly on a first come first serve basis, and I will not prioritise anything based on deadlines. As a matter of principle I will not accept anything that gives me three weeks or less time. Not only will this time frame not normally work, also a journal that sets too short deadlines signals in my view that it prioritises speed over quality, and I don't support this.

Other than that, I try to have a maximum of four or five review tasks open at any time, i.e., if I reach this maximum, I start declining. If I am for some reason more busy than usual, I may lower this maximum. Somebody who likes reviewing less than me may generally set themselves a lower maximum of course.

In most periods I get more requests than I can handle under these rules, but if I decline things that are too far from my expertise or that seem of hardly any interest to me, I can usually get things down to a manageable number. (Obviously these criteria can be handled with some flexibility.)

Experience shows that in this way I can do almost all reviews in somewhere between three and seven weeks, and although seven is too long for most dealines, it rarely gets that high, and most editors (who didn't set ultra tight deadlines) are still just about OK with seven weeks. (I am an editor myself and I'd be very happy if I could get all reviews within eight weeks, say, although of course getting many by the actual deadline helps.)

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