This post was originally written in February 2021 as a follow up to Planning Your Winter Semester and was shared in the Academic Writing Studio. It has been edited and divided into a series of shorter posts for ease of reading. The general principles—habits, routines, and default responses—are explained in the first post in the series: Managing energy to make decisions.
Peer review is another area where making some big decisions initially, can help reduce the energy you expend when you get specific requests.
This is one situation where a lot of people’s default response is yes. You feel like you can’t say no unless you have a really good reason. You then start to resent the entire system, especially if you get a lot of requests. You might also start to be less kind to authors, especially if their manuscript needs a lot of work.
You want to make a commitment to reviewing manuscripts for journals or presses you publish with. The whole system of volunteer peer review relies on this kind of diffuse reciprocity. However, you never know when you might get asked, nor how often. Early in your career, these requests are infrequent enough that you can say yes to all of them (or at least all of them that meet minimum standards of being within your area of expertise).
At some point in your career the number gets to be too much. The requests come in one at a time, so you don’t have the information to rank your options and choose. You notice when you are overwhelmed. Or, as a client of mine did, when you actually count them for your promotion portfolio.
What to do
You can make a big decision that will create default responses and a context for your peer reviewing decisions.
You might quantify your commitment to diffuse reciprocity: You publish x articles per year on average, each of them needs y reviews, so you will review x * y manuscripts per year. When you first institute this kind of rule, you might find that you’ve reached your limit in 6 months. You might need to combine it with some other big decisions.
Another way to limit the number of manuscripts you review is to limit the journals or presses you will review for. In the spirit of diffuse reciprocity you could decide to only review for journals that you also contribute to. You could make a commitment to being on an editorial board, and turn down requests from other journals for the duration of your term. You might come up with other criteria.
The default process
The key thing is to make at least part of the decision in general terms. You decide criteria that will shape a default response, limiting the effort required for decisions about specific requests.
If you are nearing or past your annual limit, your default response is no, unless there is a really good reason to say yes. If you’ve decided to limit the journals you will review for, then requests from those journals default to yes unless there is a reason to say no. Requests from other journals default to no, unless there is some really good reason to override your general decision.
Having a default response makes it easier to reply quickly. This is especially important if you are saying no. If you are so busy you aren’t sure when you’d even do the review, you are definitely too busy to spend more time than you need to thinking about your response and crafting an email. Creating a template for your responses may also help.
“I have a duty to participate in peer review” is the basis of your big decisions, not a reason to override those decisions.
Other posts in this series:
- Managing the energy you use to make decisions
- Making Decisions: planning & scheduling
- Decision making: meetings
I discuss this in Peer Review (A Short Guide) available to buy in eBook or paperback.
How you, as a reviewer, can contribute to a better process, part of a series addressing long review times.