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Guidelines for Suggesting Peer Reviewers for Manuscripts

As a journal editor, I am often surprised by some of the suggestions authors make for potential reviewers.  In some cases the suggestions are not very good, and on occasion authors do not suggest reviewers at all.  Some authors will even state explicitly that they cannot think of any reviewers, which is really surprising.   

So I thought it might be useful for me to put forward some advice on how to suggest reviewers.  Now, some people may contend that it is the job of the journal editor and the journal editor alone to identify suitable reviewers for a manuscript.  I would rather suggest that it is the job of the editor to make certain that manuscripts that are suitable for their journal receive a thorough and fair review.  This is actually a fairly difficult task.  Along those lines, taking the time to suggest good reviewers for your manuscripts will greatly facilitate the review process.  

I suspect that some authors may be concerned that if they suggest a reviewer, the editor may actually ignore their suggestion, or perhaps will discount their recommendation. Provided that you give adequate justification, I can assure you that this will not be the case.  Moreover, you should always provide some justification for why you are recommending the reviewers.  You can, for example, list their expertise or mention that your manuscript cites one of their articles.  You should also list their current contact information.

Let me begin by listing what I view as being the attributes of a good reviewer for a manuscript:

  • They have expertise that is specific to your manuscript.  This should be obvious, but some authors make the mistake of suggesting reviewers who simply possess a lot of general knowledge in the area or who are highly distinguished.
  • The reviewer has recently published in the area.  By “recent” here, I mean within the last decade. 
  • The individual is still active.  A simple web search should be sufficient to verify this.  Some authors make the mistake of suggesting reviewers who are retired or no longer doing research.   

With the above in mind, here is my advice for identifying and suggesting good reviewers.  I’m sure many people here will be able to add to this list.

  • Try to identify the names and current contact info for at least three individuals.  The more you can list, the better. 
  • Begin with the list of individuals who appear in your list of references, in particular those that are closest in nature to your manuscript.
  • Conduct a search on Google scholar and any other databases you have access to.  Hopefully you did something like this before ever beginning your research, but it is possible that something was published recently that you missed.  
  • Then go to the home page for the journal you plan to submit to, and search the journal’s page for the keywords that appear in your manuscript. 
  • Identify the individuals that were primarily responsiple for or directed the research for the results of the above, and verify that they’re still active and that their contact information is current.
  • If your manuscript covers several different topical areas, try to identify at least one reviewer for each area.
  • It is OK to suggest high-profile or highly-distinguished reviewers, provided that they are heavily cited by your manuscript or that they have expertise that is particular to your work.  However, your list of reviewers should not consist solely of highly distinguished individuals. 
  • Avoid suggesting reviewers who are not at arms-length from you or your co-authors.  This includes graduate advisors, people in your current department, or any others with a conflict of interest. 
  • Provide a justification for each reviewer. 

Of course, following the above guidelines will not mean that the editor uses any or all of your suggestions.  However, if you follow these guidelines, at minimum you will have performed your due diligence with regard to properly citing the literature.  I can also promise you that in general you will end up with a faster review. 

     

    Comments

    Pradeep Sharma's picture

    John, this is a very useful post. I know, at least from one editor, that even if he (on occasion) does not use any names provided by the authors, the list often provides him with cues on what kind of reviewers to look for.

     

    Pradeep,

    Thanks for your comment. I think many editors tend to use a combination of reviewers, some of whom were suggested by the authors and then others who were identified independently. As editors we have many tools at our disposal to identify reviewers, but it can be a real challenge, particularly when the topic reaches into areas outside our domain of expertise.

    Oleksandr Glushko's picture

    Thanks for this very useful post! Frankly, i never really understood this option during a manuscript submission. The problem, in my opinion, is that the reviewers typically know the names of the authors. As an author i would tend to suggest reviewers i know personally and those who "like" my research. I think every scientist after several years of research in some area knows several persons (from conferences or personal communications) who sympathize with his/her research. Formally there is also nothing wrong in suggesting such acquaintances, of course, if you don't have any publications or collaborations together. But evidently the review will be not unbiassed anymore.

    It would be very nice if you can comment on this issue.

    The second issue is the possible conflict of interests if there are several groups working within the same specific area. I can assume a priori (not assuming direct bad intentions) that reviewer will be more critical if reviewing a manuscript from a group working in the same specific area. In this case the reviwer might be a best expert for the manuscript ever but, again, the review is not unbiased anymore.

    Oleksandr,

    Thank you for your comment. I have to say that I think there is a suggestion here that the goal is to get your work published. That should not be the goal. The goal should be to make sure that whatever you do publish is the absolute best it can be. If you adopt that perspective, then you will first and foremost suggest reviewers who have the requisite expertise, regardless of what bias they might hold. I realize that isn't an easy message to accept, particularly for someone starting out. But believe me, it will make a world of difference in the long run.

    Authors suggest names of "friends" for reviewers all the time. However, unless there is some justification for such people (as in they have expertise in the area or have published in the same), these people are unlikely to be chosen to review the manuscript.

    Now, perhaps your point is that, even amongst the set of people with sufficient expertise, an author would choose to suggest those who he/she thinks would be most favorable, based on acquaintance. In my experience, however, this is not usually the way it goes. I have found that acquaintances can be just as brutal with reviews as anyone else.

    Ultimately the editor has to examine the reviews obtained for any given manuscript and determine whether or not they are fair and thorough. This goes both ways. Reviews can be unfair in that they are too critical but also too praiseworthy.

    As to your second point, see my first paragraph, above. You really should want your critics to review your work. It's certainly possible that they won't be fair, but a good editor should be able to determine that. It is also why most of us try to obtain several reviews for a manuscript.

    Oleksandr Glushko's picture

    Dear Prof. Dolbow,

    I didn't want to say that the goal is to publish papers by any means. This is absolutely not the opinion i have. Unfortunately, and it is not a secret that many scientists are working not only on quality but also on quantity. And unfortunately many journals accept manuscriprits which are "based on" already published manuscripts if there are enough internationally-known names among the authors (i.e. if there is a high probability that the paper will be well cited).

    Regarding my post, I just thought that the goal of an editor is to find the experts which will provide a fair, (reasonably) critical, and professional review. I assumed that many people want and try to make the publication process easy for themselves. Thats why it was very interesting to ask how journal editors handle this problem. As i understand now, the editors must really invest much time in editing activities in order to do the job well...

    Indeed, in a perfect world there would be nearly no need to peer-review manuscripts. Personally, I always try to get several internal reviews before finishing the manuscript. Thus if 5 to 10 scientists (authors plus internal reviewers) which are all experts in the field think that the paper is interesting enough to be published in a given journal then, most probably, it is so. In a perfect world, in my opinion, the number of published papers would be at least a factor of 2 lower than now. Just because really interesting results do not come permanetly.

    Thanks again for your answers!

    Dear Oleksandr

    I guess when someone writes a paper he try to answer to a problem that its solution is not straightforward, something that no one knows how to approach it. 

    or at least, he tries to describe something really difficult or from different area of science such as physics and mathematics in more understandable way for engineers. 

    but when you look at today's journals its like: as if someone invented + and * operators and all others come with a Jurnal paper on how to calculate ((a * b) + (c + d) * e) + (d * e)  !!!

    we are engineer, and its engineering, there is no need for this kind of papers!

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