When Someone Asks You to Referee…

… give an answer. Please.

One of the most frustrating experiences of editors is asking someone to referee a paper or a book manuscript and getting no answer. Occasionally, this is because an email is sent to the wrong address or gets lost. But that’s not the typical case. I also know everyone is busy and even answering a simple email takes time.

The problem is that when someone doesn’t answer, there is no obvious time frame for deciding when to give up and ask someone else. Meanwhile, precious time is lost for both the editor and–more importantly–the author.

An especially obnoxious case is people who ask for time to think about whether to accept the assignment and then still give no answer.

Do the right thing: if you don’t have time or desire to referee something, just say no. But say something.


  1. Liz Schier

    Here here
    It is probably too time-consuming for the editor, but have you tried doing the equivalent of what the more automated systems for some of the journals do? i.e. send out request, 10 days later send out reminder and on the 14th day send email that taking silence to mean you will ask someone else.

    You could also include that you expect the review back in x number of days/months and then send out a reminder e.g. 2-4 weeks before review is due (depending on size of manuscript)

    Like I said, tedious for the editor if it can’t be automated but as a reviewer I find the reminders really helpful and they often make the difference between being on time or being late

  2. Gualtiero

    Liz, yes, thanks. I do things like that. I don’t mind if a reviewer accepts a job but is somewhat late in delivering the report. That almost always happens. What I mind is people who never respond to a request or, worse, respond asking for time in order to decide and then disappear. That’s a royal waste of time. And it happens a lot more frequently than you might think.

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