Why I Review

For me, it's because the editorial offices find topics I really love

A lot has been written about why reviewers review. Altruism often tops the list, followed by a sense of professional obligation, “paying back” or “paying forward,” and the desire to be on the leading edge of research in a particular field — that is, to see what people are reporting a few months ahead of time.

From the selfish to the selfless, reasons to review are complex and often overlap.

For me, the main reason I review articles is because the editorial offices I work with do a really good job of sending me submissions that hit on a topic I’m genuinely curious about, know a lot about as a result, and can’t resist learning more about. Even if the submission ultimately adds little or nothing to what I know, it stimulates thinking down well-worn neural pathways I enjoy walking, sometimes takes me to logical or factual byways I’d never contemplated, and lets me employ what I know to guide the authors and suggest improvements. And it does this by stimulating the use of my favorite way to think — writing.

It’s really that simple.

The times I’ve turned down review invitations? These have come when the editorial office sending the invitation has missed the mark by sending me something I have little interest in, experience with, or knowledge of.

  • I can usually understand how the mistake occurred, and they use any feedback to refine their future invitations.
    • All of this is part of what publishers do, and the hidden costs of running good information sources, having loyal reviewers, and getting reviews back quickly. Even F1000 has learned that feral reviewers ain’t great.

So, from my n of 1, I think reviewers like to review because they like the topics they review, know a lot about them, want to know more, and enjoy batting around the associated ideas with authors via the review process — instructing, guiding, helping, and informing.

As the volume of papers has grown, however, I’ve started to turn down review invitations. Partly, this is because many of the papers are more conceptually muddled, making it hard for me to engage with them, or even understand what the authors are trying to say. I also shy away from OA journals because they are volume-based, and I don’t want to become a go-to reviewer for something that begins as a spigot, and then turns into a firehose.

Bottom line? Make sure your reviewer database accurately reflects what topics and areas your reviewers can’t resist — not just what they know or how they were trained, but the topics they love.

And here’s an idea — it might even be worthwhile to add a few notes after you talk with them. Do they like to cook? Watch sports? Parasail? Play music? Do triathlons? You never know when a paper might pop up that touches on these “non-scholarly” topics, and when secondary interests could guide your choice of reviewer, and even get a reviewer excited because they love that secondary topic, too.