On Reviewing Manuscripts

Peter Hoffer, December 2011

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To the Editor:

I have just read Barbara Welke's September 2011 Perspectives on History essay channeling Peggy Pascoe's thoughts on refereeing manuscripts. The advice in this essay belongs in the required reading category of what might be termed "continuing professional education". As someone who does perhaps more than my fair share of reading book proposals and manuscripts for two academic presses and for a variety of journals, I thought I had the process down pat. I was wrong—the thoughts Pascoe/Welke offered reminded me that every submission represents the aspirations and labor of another scholar and deserves collegial handling.

I would add a few more points to the 10 that Pascoe/Welke listed. First, do not accept invitations to referee that are outside your area of expertise. Your reading is meant to help the editor and the author, and you can only do that when you are familiar with the subject matter and the secondary literature. Second, do not accept an assignment if you cannot get to it within the time frame required. True, refereeing articles is uncompensated labor, a professional courtesy, but that courtesy becomes discourtesy when you delay the editorial process.

Third, if you do accept, do not look for your name or work in the notes until after you have reached a verdict on the piece. Refereeing is not about you and your judgment of the piece should not be influenced by how well (if at all) it treats your work. Finally, send in your report expeditiously. There is an editor and an author waiting for it, careers may depend not just on what you say but saying it in timely fashion.

—Peter Hoffer