I had been an active researcher until two years ago and published several papers and reviewed several papers as expected. Two years ago I took a teaching position. I teach 3 classes/semester but most classes meet 4 or 5 times a week, so it actually feels like 4 classes. I also do extensive work with undergraduates. I do some research, but it is very minimal (corresponding to the high teaching load).

Due to my previous research past I am constantly getting requests to review papers (3/month). Due to my change in work duties, I have to decline many of them (but I do review some papers).

My question is: Should I explain that I am declining due to my change in work duties? What about if it is the same editor or journal that keeps sending me papers to review? How do I best/ethically proceed without hurting my chances to publish the few papers I plan to submit?

Additional information to clarify: I am not too worried about my chances to publish (my current position requires very minimal research). I am mostly worried that I will get known as a bad professional. By the way, my current institution is officially a top tier research university (and they advertise themselves as such), but my department is not (we barely have a masters program). It is very easy for colleagues to think that I am active in research unless I explicitly tell them about my current duties. It gets even more confusing since some papers take a long time to get published (after acceptance).

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    You do not need to agree to every request. In some systems you can block out times (such as the semester) where you do not have the time to review, and you won't be asked then. Reviewing and publishing are decoupled to a reasonable extent.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:18
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    I get the impression that your underlying question is: will it harm me professionally if I decline too many review requests, and how can I mitigate this? If that's the case, I think you should edit the question to make this a bit clearer. The details about your teaching are not particularly relevant (if I'm right). Jun 29, 2017 at 15:47
  • Also, if that is what you are worried about, this post may answer your question. Jun 29, 2017 at 15:48
  • If it is the same editor, write him a polite email explaining the situation.
    – Shake Baby
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:02
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    @FredDouglis I won't rehash the debate here, but you can always post your own answer there if you don't agree with the existing ones. Jun 30, 2017 at 13:38

2 Answers 2


There are (at least) three issues here:

  1. Your time. If you're unable to spend time due to teaching, than that's a perfectly acceptable reason to decline.
  2. Your duty. If you're no longer publishing research, then arguably you're no longer obliged to provide the service of review to those who do. So, don't feel obliged, but you may still enjoy this.
  3. Your expertise may no longer be up to scratch. In particular, you may lack access to some relevant publications and/or may no longer follow recent research to be on top of the field. In this case, you cannot provide an adequate review (w/o an unreasonable effort) and should decline.

In any case, you don't have to feel apologetic when declining a review request, though it does not harm to briefly state a reason.

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    This is nice summary of issues that perhaps needs a 'what to do about it' sentence for an ending. In my field, its hard to imagine that an editor wants a particularly long or apologietic 'too-much'information' answer, and likely is more than happy if you accept for the refereeing when it makes sense to you, and decline when it doesn't - as long as you get a well-done review in on time for those you accept to review - assuming that you still find interest in reviewing. (that is, I'm sure I get more cuss words thrown at me when I drop the ball on a review that I promised to do).
    – Carol
    Jun 29, 2017 at 16:11
  • @Carol ?? The editor should accept a yes for a yes and a no for a no. No need to give any reasons.
    – Walter
    Jun 29, 2017 at 22:26
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    I guess that is what I thought I implied. (that editor doesn't want 'too-much-information') - just that it might be nice to add information to that effect at the end of your answer. (That all the issues you outline are considered 'reasonable', and the editor likely mostly just wants to know if the OP can do the review or not).
    – Carol
    Jun 29, 2017 at 22:33
  • @Carol Yes you implied that, but this implied that my answer did not, which I find confusing.
    – Walter
    Jun 29, 2017 at 22:35

As an associate editor of several journals and a past EIC of a magazine, I've had a lot of experience being turned down by people. When people decline multiple times and without any separate message commenting on why they can't do it, I try to remember not to ask them in the future. Usually, if they know me at least (and sometimes if they don't), they'll explain they're too busy, or going on vacation, or whatever. Often they'll recommend an alternative reviewer I can contact.

So I have to disagree with @Walter's comment in response to his answer, saying "no need to give any reasons" -- you don't need to but the OP is right in thinking it can be useful!

I think the question here is different though, and one the other answer so far isn't (IMHO) especially addressing. The OP isn't saying he is no longer publishing -- if that were true it would be easy to decline reviews and not worry about this. He's saying he's publishing less, and has less time for reviewing, and worries that if he always declines requests it will hurt the chance to publish.

By and large, I'd say the two are decoupled, within reason. I know someone who had published at a particular conference something like 8 times but declined my request to serve on the program committee for that conference when I chaired it. Did this hurt his chances of publishing in the future? Probably not. Did I think he was being really unfair by not carrying his weight on the other end of the publication process, as a reviewer? Absolutely! If it's a specific journal that keeps asking OP to review, and the OP declines without comment and then submits there, I think there is a nontrivial chance that it biases the editor, at least a bit. Probably not in the "automatic rejection" category by any means, but a finger on the scale, potentially.

That's why I think declining with a comment (separate email if the system doesn't allow it when declining) is a good idea. So is reviewing at least occasionally, both to keep on top of the topic and to give back -- as long as OP plans to still publish sometimes as well.

Fair is fair.

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    within reason, a simple comment is, at least, a polite thing to do. Of course, if a ghost conference sends 3/day, then spam folder would be the best option.... Jun 30, 2017 at 0:17
  • @FábioDias absolutely, and that is the point I started to make, but I realize the whole conversation digressed. The point isn't only "should one explain when declining" but "does repeatedly declining hurt publication". Perhaps this is an indication that the question is overly broad and asking too many independent questions, though it's hard really to separate them. Might be best though to simply ask "does saying no hurt publication chances" without the added question of whether it's accompanied by an explanation. Jun 30, 2017 at 0:22

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