Does Refereeing Help You Get Published?

Kevin Vallier asked the above question on Facebook. I answer with a qualified "yes." Of course an editor should never publish a lousy paper because he likes the author. But here is the sort of situation in which I think it is likely to help:

Sue edits the Journal of Digestive Studies. She has asked both Mary and Fred to referee for her. Mary almost always says 'yes,' and when she does, she always submits a referee report in a timely fashion. Fred often says 'no,' and when he says 'yes,' he has to be nudged for months before he submits his report.

Now, the same week, Sue receives paper for consideration from both Mary and Fred. Both papers contain the germ of a good idea. But both are a bit of a mess at present: the good idea is buried amidst a welter of irrelevancies. In their present state neither is publishable, but if the good idea was unearthed from its midden heap and made to shine, either might be accepted. If Sue merely identifies the good idea and the problem, and says "Resubmit if you fix this," she has done her job. But she realizes she could do more: She might send along a more detailed explanation of how she sees the paper could be made to work.

She has no obligation to do this for either author. But it seems obvious that she is much more likely to "go the extra yard" for Mary than for Fred. And that is entirely as it should be: be a good citizen in the nation of scholars ought to be rewarded.


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