D.J. McPhee
20 November 2023
Posted inPeer Review Post authorD.J. McPhee

Choosing Good Peer Reviewers

Finding good and appropriate peer reviewers can be stressful.

On the one hand, authors submitting journals to your journal are relying on you to arrange for timely peer review of their work. On the other hand, you need to ensure that these reviewers are carefully vetted. Balancing these two needs can be very challenging.

Learning about experts in any given field isn’t that challenging. It does, however, take time. Spend some time on Google and you can get a good list of possible reviewers. However, a possible candidate is not the same as a willing peer reviewer. This is part of why choosing good peer reviewers is important.

In this article, we’ll go over some important things to consider to select good peer reviewers. Before we start though, let’s answer a question: “What do peer reviewers do?”

What do peer reviewers do?

The easiest way to think about peer review is to think of it as “quality control”. One of the major goals of the peer review process is to ensure the accuracy of research results. Without a robust peer review process, a journal might publish articles that include:

  • Incorrect and dangerous conclusions;
  • Conclusions or research that was false and made up;
  • Copying the work of other academics/researchers (this is also called plagiarism);
  • Results that are already known or that aren’t scientifically novel.

All of these examples can be disastrous to the reputation of a journal. A publisher needs to be careful during the manuscript submission stage (before peer review) to avoid this. But the peer review stage is where experts can weigh in and catch small (or big) details that editorial staff might miss. We’ve put together an article that goes into greater depth about peer review for you to read.

So, what is it that is expected of a peer reviewer? Ideally, to be fair, honest, and constructive. The peer review process should help to find cases where a manuscript isn’t ready to be published. These manuscripts might need more work, and the authors can be informed of this. In cases where a manuscript is interesting and novel, a peer reviewer’s responsibility is to point out what needs to be improved.

In short, good peer reviewers are one of the most important parts of any journal.

How do you find good peer reviewers?

The peer review process is extremely important, and we’ve covered why in another article. But, what makes a good peer review process is great reviewers. There are lots of ways to find good peer reviewers, and we’ll go over some of them below. Importantly though, you should also make sure that you make recommendations part of your manuscript submission strategy. Even if you don’t use the recommended reviewers, they might be very useful to keep on file for other papers. Once you’ve established a proper peer review process pipeline, a journal management system can help you keep things organized.

Ask for recommendations from other good peer reviewers

Most journals have an editorial board of some kind, which is made up of experts in the field that that journal covers. These editorial board members can be extremely valuable resources to journals staff.

Asking editorial board members for recommendations is a good way to gain access to a lot of lived experience. These academics have made connections over the years, and other academics are more willing to help if they know that a colleague of theirs has referred you.

If someone agrees to help you with the peer review process, it’s important to make sure that you are aware of what their area of expertise is. While they might be helping you this time, if they are constantly being bombarded with requests by your journal to review articles that are outside of their scope, it might cause them to want to stop helping you.

Keep good records

Now that you have a quality and reliable peer reviewer, it is critical that you be able to access them quickly when a manuscript that fits their area of expertise comes your way. Make sure that you have added this reviewer to your database, and that they are clearly tagged in the database so that people will only send them manuscripts that they will be willing to review.

A good way to do this is to use keywords to tag their file. If you do this, you will be able to quickly see all the possible peer reviewers that might be able to check a manuscript for you.

With a constantly growing database, you’ll always be able to make the right choice for any situation.

Check references sections for good peer reviewers

The work submitted by authors will include a references section.

This is a list of all the work that the authors have referenced in the process of doing research and writing the manuscript, and as a result is a valuable list of academics or researchers who will know about the content of the paper.

Cross-referencing this list and looking up the authors of other papers can help you to do two things at the same time. First, these authors can help you to determine if the work that has been submitted is related to what they wrote. Second, it can help you to expand your list of peer reviewers. Establishing a good relationship with these potential peer reviewers is important.

When checking references

There’s a couple of important things to keep in mind when you’re going through references.

First, always make sure that you check the publication dates. Researchers who have published in the last five years are far more likely to be viable peer reviewers for your journal than someone who published something thirty years ago.

Make sure that the individual you want to contact is still active in the field before you start sending emails.

Second, verify that the person you are going to contact hasn’t changed institutions or organizations. If they have moved to a new university, for example, they will have a new email address. Always try to make sure that you’re working with the most up-to-date information.

Third, if you don’t hear back from them in a reasonable amount of time, feel free to try and reach out to them again. But make sure that you’re allowing a reasonable amount of time to pass. No one likes having 6 emails from a stranger asking for a favor and you were only out of the office a couple of days because of a toothache. Always be polite.

Do they have a recommendation?

So you have tried to reach out to one of these references and they have let you know that they are unable to (or unwilling to) help you with the peer review process. Politely ask them if they are willing to provide you with the contact information of someone that might be able to help.

Another thing you might want to consider asking is if they may be willing to help in the future. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of bad timing.

Make sure you update your database accordingly.

Regardless of the method you use, it’s important to make sure that you update your database in a timely manner. Make sure that you have clear records of what people’s areas of expertise are. It’s important to make sure that you’re not sending possible reviewers a lot of requests—especially when those manuscripts don’t have anything to do with their area of expertise.

Having a good system to find, track, and interact with good peer reviewers is very important, so prepare yourself for success. If you want help to organize and streamline your publishing pipeline, let us help. Contact us today for more information.

D.J. McPhee
20 November 2023
Posted inPeer Review
Post author D.J. McPhee
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Creating a Peer Review Pipeline
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Why is Peer Review Important?