Journal editors are constantly on the lookout for good peer reviewers (also referred to as ‘referees’). The qualities of a good peer reviewer include the right qualifications and expertise to effectively review a manuscript, the ability to meet deadlines, and a lack of potential conflicts of interest with the manuscript’s authors and their research. Another key factor in the selection is to meet the mandate of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Accordingly, reviewer selection also needs to be diverse enough in terms of gender, geographical location and career stage.

Identifying potential peer reviewers

Journal editors use a variety of methods to identify and select peer reviewers for submitted manuscripts. Here are some common approaches:

Citation analysis: The reference section of submitted manuscripts is a great place to jump start the search to identify potential reviewers. Authors cited in a manuscript under review will be ideal candidates to give their expert feedback, as long as there are no potential conflicts of interest.

Editorial board members: Editors may reach out to editorial board members who have the relevant subject matter expertise to request a review.

Online databases: Several online databases are available that can match potential reviewers with manuscripts based on subject matter expertise and other criteria. Some examples are Publons’ Reviewer Connect, Journal/Author Name Estimator (JANE) and Web of Science’s Reviewer Locator .

Personal and professional networks: Editors may also use their own networks to identify potential reviewers. This pool might include their previous co-authors and colleagues, as well as mentees/mentors. Such an approach is particularly useful in highly specialized fields that may have only a handful of qualified reviewers.

Author recommendations: Many journals recommend that authors submitting manuscripts suggest potential reviewers who have relevant expertise in their field. 

Declined reviewer recommendations: More often than not, researchers who are approached for peer review turn down such requests because they are already hard pressed for time. In such cases, editors may ask such reviewers for alternatives. Editors therefore should request ‘appropriate alternative reviewers’ in the initial invitation to review.

Reaching out to potential peer reviewers

Once the potential reviewers have been identified, journal editors usually reach out to them directly to request a review. The reviewers may accept or decline the request based on their availability and expertise. 

To meet the challenges of ever-increasing volumes of submissions, there is a growing need to expand the peer reviewer pool. Journal editors can do this by some unique approaches:

Bringing on board early-career researchers: Journal editors might express interest in integrating young, early-career researchers (ECRs) in the peer review process. 

Active networking: At conferences and industry events, editorial board members can seek potential reviewers by networking and building meaningful connections.

Putting out calls for reviewers: Some journals and publishers regularly post calls for reviewers via their social media, websites or blogs.

How authors can help editors in the search for peer reviewers

Given a general scarcity of available peer reviewers at any given time, it is a good practice for authors to recommend peer reviewers at the time of manuscript submission. Authors may include a list of preferred and non-preferred peer reviewers in their covering letter. Remember that when suggesting potential reviewers, you must ensure that they are not known to you personally. Be sure to consider diversity in the list (a balanced mix of male and female researchers from different institutions and countries). 

Concluding notes

The surging volumes of submitted manuscripts warrant a concomitant increase in available peer reviewers. Journal editors use several avenues to identify and reach out to potential peer reviewers. 

If you are an ECR and are keen on contributing to peer review and to the advancement of your research field, there are tips and tricks to get started, become good at it and benefit from it.

Peer review is an important component of academic publishing, and it entails high levels of integrity. Watch the recording of our webinar on the Importance of Peer Review in Supporting Research Integrity here.



Share with your colleagues

Understanding how a Peer Reviewer Views an Article Submission

Minimising or avoiding Bias during Peer Review

Differences between journal editors and peer reviewers