On Reviewing Manuscripts
Peter Hoffer, December 2011
Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be e-mailed (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.
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.