Reviewing a manuscript in two hours

Slice of rocky road cake on a white plate

Today I declined to review a manuscript for a journal because the English language in the title and abstract, which is the only part I received, was quite poor. The manuscript sounded more or less interesting, but the time and effort to deal with it was something that I could not afford and simultaneously maintain my sanity.

I can spend, roughly, two hours in a review. There is too much going on in the world to spend longer than that in a low return activity. If I can’t finish it in two hours I will postpone it and the manuscript will quickly disappear under a pile of newer paper.

I see my job as judging the plausibility of the manuscript. Does it make sense? Can you even get that type of results coming from your data? Does it fit in the broader context?

  • I will not fix the writing: that’s not my job. A proper editor should fix that.
  • I don’t care about the format of the references and won’t check if all of them are in the list. That’s a job for editor/publisher. I have only 2 hours.
  • I won’t derive all the equations or check the computer code. I have only 2 hours.
  • I will check that you’re using the right or close-enough methods. I will point out when the methods are wrong or silly inefficient.
  • I won’t write huge lists of changes, but only the most relevant ones.
  • I’ll check if the conclusions make sense with respect to what you did.

As I have only 2 hours, I won’t take on a manuscript that requires fighting with the writing to figure out what’s going on. I will spend longer, some times much longer if I am reading and evaluating the work of students, but not for a random person in internet.

I don’t like the current publication system, which is a part of a larger system that feels like a pyramid scheme. The incentives are wrong, we are pushing people to publish too much, there are many more people trying to publish and their careers depend on making it in a system with a false sense of scarcity: there should be no more page limits for an “issue”.

Someone may say, but 2 hours is not long enough to “properly review” a manuscript. Well, these are my rules, if you don’t like them… tough luck.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *