Requests to review

Policy for journal review requests


Eleanor C Sayre


April 3, 2017

Will you review a paper for my journal?

Probably not.

Each calendar year, I count up the number of papers that I am an author on, P. The following calendar year, I agree to review up to P total papers. After I have reviewed P papers, I decline all review requests for the remainder of the year. Often, but not always, I fulfill my reviewing quota before June, and occasionally by February.

In 2022, P=8. As of January 25th, I have reviewed 5; there were 3 held in reserve for PERC this summer, and those slots are filled. I am not accepting additional papers for review in this calendar year.

For those of you who aren’t academics, you might be startled to learn that reviewers are not compensated for their time, and authors often have to pay to publish. Publishing peer-reviewed papers is an immensely lucrative business built on the free labor of academics.


Is this policy fair?

Yes. Almost all of my papers have multiple authors, in accordance with the norms of my field, and the number of authors is usually more than the number of reviewers. If everyone had this policy, we would have a surplus of reviews.

Some people think that senior researchers should have to perform more reviews, to account for the relative inexperience of junior researchers. I disagree. Junior researchers should learn how to review papers as an important part of their training. Teaching students to write good reviews is just as important as teaching them to write good papers. I do explicit training with my students about how to write good reviews, usually using real paper submissions as examples.

Also: the number of authors on my papers is often double or triple the number of reviews needed for a single paper. By following this policy, I am reviewing more than my fair share of papers, even if we account for fewer reviews from junior people.

I’m an editor, and I think my journal deserves an exception.

If you’d like to explain why your journal should get special treatment in this policy, or why you think this policy is unfair, you can set up a meeting. Some conferences have a policy that, in order to submit, you are required to review for that year. I already account for that in my submission plans for each year, but if I have a surprise submission I’m willing to make an exception. Some journals have a softer policy that authors should review as many papers as they submit. If I’ve been submitting to your journal more often than I’ve reviewed in the last three years, I’m willing to make an exception if I’m not overwhelmed with other work.

I’m generally not willing to make exceptions for journals in which I do not publish; for conferences to which I did not submit in the same year; and for papers which are outside of my current research interests.

I’d really like you to read my paper and give me feedback before submission.

I am always willing to help my students with their papers, even long after they’ve graduated or for papers on which I’m not an author. For postdocs and other collaborators, I’m happy to help as I can. Everyone else should send me a 1-2 page summary first to see if I’ve got enough time and expertise to help in a meaningful way.

Policy clarifications

  • Conference papers and journal papers both contribute to P, and thus review requests for both kinds of publication venues count. I don’t make distinctions in this way.
  • Just as re-submission of the same paper to the same journal (R&R) doesn’t increase P, re-review of the same paper at the same journal doesn’t double count. R&Rs count towards P of the first year of submission.
  • Helping my students write reviews doesn’t count towards my P. That’s advising work, not unpaid community service.
  • On rare occasions, I am obligated to perform reviews in excess of P as a condition of submitting papers late in the year. If that occurs, the excess reviews carry over to the following year.
  • In principle, there could be excess authored papers which allow for excess reviews in the following year, but that has never occurred.
  • This policy is for papers only; grant proposals and grant reviews have a totally different balancing system.
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