The Gentle Art of Reviewer Selection

Reviewer selection is arguably the most important part of an academic editor’s job; without good reviewers, the whole peer-review process grinds to a halt. So, if you are a good reviewer, I would like to take this opportunity to say, on behalf of editors and authors everywhere: Thank You!


What makes a good reviewer?

A good reviewer is somebody who reads the paper thoroughly, with an unbiased mind, and gives an honest opinion without being unnecessarily unkind to the authors or getting upset that their own work hasn’t been referenced enough (this happens more often than it should).

But the key thing that elevates someone to the ranks of a “good reviewer” is that they return their reviews on time. And, on the odd occasion that they can’t – things come up, life happens, it’s inevitable – they let the editorial team know. When it comes to the peer-review process, there is nothing worse than a reviewer who agrees to review a manuscript then disappears off the face of the earth.

For all we know, they could be busy crafting the greatest review academia has ever seen, but if it takes so long that the authors lose patience and withdraw their manuscript then it honestly doesn’t help anybody.


How do you find a good reviewer?

If you’re a new editor, you will probably start with your colleagues, your professional acquaintances, people who you know you can rely on to do a good job. But there comes a point when you have to take the plunge and start asking people who you don’t know so well – your colleagues aren’t available, it’s slightly outside of their specialism, they’ve already reviewed eight papers for you this month – so where do you begin to look for specialists who you’ve never bumped into at a conference?


1. The Editorial Board

If you’ve taken over the editorship of an established journal, then the Editorial Board should be your first port of call. The Board will almost certainly be made up of specialists from all over the world and often it is a condition of being listed as a Board member that they review a certain number of manuscripts for the journal. They are also a fantastic resource as they will know other experts in their particular field who they can recommend to undertake the review if/when they can’t do it themselves.


2. Your Reviewer Database

Again, this applies to established journals, but if peer review is run through an online submission system, then you will have a reviewer database at your fingertips. This database should be searchable by key word so you can, in effect, ask your system to suggest suitable candidates for you at the click of a button.


3. Advertise for Volunteers

We were recently talking to an editor who has a sign-up sheet on his journal’s homepage for people who wish to be considered as reviewers. He sends out regular emails containing the abstracts of submitted manuscripts and the reviewers on the list simply reply to volunteer for any they’d like to review. An unusual and ingenious tactic.


4. Ask Jane

Jane, or the Journal/Author Name Estimator, is an online tool which uses the title of a manuscript to search for relevant journals to submit it to, relevant articles to cite in it, and authors who’ve written on similar topics who might make good reviewers. In order to find these authors-of-similar-papers-who-might-make-good-reviewers, simply enter the title or abstract of the article in question in the box and click “Find authors”. She’ll then trot off to do a PubMed search and come back with a list of names and email addresses for you. If you’re struggling to find reviewers for a paper, we suggest you give her a go!

Online Submission Systems

Absolutely everything is done online these days and peer review is no different. If you’ve ever written a journal article, or been asked to review one, then you will no doubt be familiar with online submission systems.

They generally involve filling out a lengthy form, inputting a lot of information, and then attempting to persuade your manuscript files to upload. It probably won’t be surprising to hear, then, that a question all peer-review administrators will have heard at some point or other is:


Wouldn’t it be easier to just email it?

Online submission systems are used for a reason (and we promise said reason isn’t just to annoy researchers).

Tedious as it is to have to fill out all that information during submission, it is all information that we need. If you were to just email it, we would simply have to go back and forth via email until all the information had been supplied. Trust us when we tell you that it is actually much quicker to just fill in the form.

With the pressure for academics and researchers to publish more and more of their research, journals are receiving more and more submissions. Online submission systems which house all the information pertaining to each individual manuscript and automatically record when reviews and revised versions come in are an invaluable tool when trying to keep up with this demand for publication.

Successful journals these days are global enterprises with Editors and Associate Editors based all over the world. Having a system where everyone can just log in and see what manuscripts are assigned to them, what stage they’re all at, and whether any action needs to be taken makes this process far easier to manage.


Yes, but surely this could all be managed on a spreadsheet?

Those of us who’ve been in this game long enough will remember the days of running journals using emails and spreadsheets. This is a perfectly reasonable system in principle, however all it takes is for one email to go astray or for one piece of progress not to be recorded on the spreadsheet (easy to do, especially when working on a busy journal) and the peer-review process stalls. Online systems are designed to make sure that manuscripts can’t “fall through the cracks”.

The other great feature of online submission systems is that they automatically remind people when they need to be doing something. If you’ve used an online submission system as a reviewer, then you’ll no doubt have received reminders sent from the system when your comments are due to be submitted. What you may not realise is that the editorial team also receive automated notifications – a new manuscript’s been submitted and needs to be checked over, more potential reviewers need to be assigned as none of those already invited is available, a decision needs to be taken, etc.

The other (and arguably the most important) thing that the online submission systems have over spreadsheets is good old-fashioned layout. When we log into the system as administrators, we get an overview of how many manuscripts are in each stage. We can then check each stage and see how long each manuscript has been there and whether any action is overdue. We can then go into that individual manuscript and see who’s done what and when they did it.


But I’m really struggling with uploading my files and it just won’t let me submit.

Please send the Administrator an email and ask for help. Just because the majority of journals don’t accept submissions via email these days doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to email us. We are here to help and to do everything we can to make sure the peer-review process runs smoothly – most of us are more than happy to help you submit your article, advise you how to prevent the problem from occurring in future, and even to upload your files if you’re having connection problems.


A New Hub

Welcome to The Editorial Hub Ltd’s new home, a website that reflects the organisation we are today: flexible, dynamic, and globally recognised.

The Editorial Hub Ltd as a company is constantly growing in terms of our portfolio, which currently stands at over 200 journals; our client base, which encompasses a wide range of publishers, institutions, and societies; our team of highly-skilled freelance publishing professionals who make up our Hub of Excellence; and the range of services we are pleased to provide.


New Services

We are delighted to now be offering both copy-editing and proofreading services to our existing and future clients.

Our team of highly-skilled copy-editors are standing by to offer you:

  • Light touch copy-editing – correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar as well as checking referencing and style consistency.
  • Standard copy-editing – as above, plus checking consistency of style and tone as well as key terms used, and also ensuring that glossaries and indexes are in line with the publication’s protocols.
  • Substantive editing – as above, but with suggestions of more substantial additions/deletions be made to both the text and structure to ensure clarity and readability.
  • Proofreading – ensuring no errors remain in the spelling, punctuation, grammar and formatting of manuscripts before publication.

More information on all of the services we offer can be found on our Services page.


New Faces

Many of our fantastic team have been part of The Editorial Hub Ltd family for years, however we are always delighted to welcome talented new freelancers into our Hub of Excellence. Our most recent recruits boast a wealth of publishing experience, a range of academic backgrounds, and are based all over the world.

Under the guidance of our management team, our freelancers are able to take advantage of a flexible way of working which not only attracts highly-skilled and experienced publishing professionals, but ensures that we are able to offer our clients a reliable and continuous service 52 weeks a year.

If you are an experienced publishing professional looking for a new challenge, we would love to hear from you. Our ever-expanding client base means that we are always on the lookout for talented individuals based around the globe.


New Membership

The Editorial Hub Ltd has been an active member of UKSG, the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE), and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) for many years, and we are now delighted to be adding the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to this list.

COPE brings together all those involved in scholarly research and its publication with the aim of moving the culture of publishing towards one where ethical practices become a normal part of the publishing culture. Through our corporate membership of COPE, we demonstrate that The Editorial Hub Ltd, both on an organisational level and at the individual level of each of our team members, intends to follow the highest standards of publication ethics and to apply COPE principles of publication ethics. Through being fully informed by, and involved in, COPE’s activities, we apply best practice and advise our clients and their editors, referees and authors of optimal ethical peer-review practices.


New Website

We are therefore delighted to be bringing you this new website as a hub for all our activities. Our new online home will allow us to grow, evolve, and expand as we continue to find new ways to engage with the world of scholarly publishing and support each of our clients on their individual journeys.


Submitted my paper. Now what?

There is something of an air of mystery as to what actually happens to your manuscript once you’ve pressed that “submit” button. It seemingly goes off into cyberspace and you are left playing the waiting game.

These days, if you’ve submitted to a journal via an online submission system, you will be able to track its progress to some extent as you will generally be able to see what stage it’s at. The names of these stages can, however, seem fairly vague and almost worse than no information at all.

So let’s translate them. There are many different submission systems and the stages a manuscript goes through during peer review does differ system to system (and, indeed, journal to journal), so for the purposes of this post we’re going to look at the most common stages of the most common submission site: ScholarOne (formally Manuscript Central).


First Steps

Initially your manuscript will go through stages such as “Awaiting Admin Checklist” and/or “Awaiting Editor Assignment” depending on how new submissions are initially checked on the journal. These stages tend to be moved through fairly swiftly as they are just the editorial team checking that your submission is suitable for peer review and then deciding which of the editors will be responsible for it during the process.


Awaiting Reviewer Selection

This is the first stage of the peer-review process and your manuscript will be here until the assigned Editor has selected some suitable experts to invite to review.

Once enough reviewers have been selected, the manuscript will move on to the next stage. If only one reviewer agrees to review and all the others decline the invitation, however, your manuscript may well return to this stage while the Editor selects more. So if you log in to check on progress several weeks after submission and find your manuscript at this stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that no action has been taken.


Awaiting Reviewer Invitation

This means that potential reviewers have been selected, but have yet to be invited. Manuscripts quite often return to this stage if not enough of the invited reviewers accepted the invitation so further invitations need to be sent. It’s quite common for editors to select a lot of reviewers, but only invite a few at a time.


Awaiting Reviewer Assignment

This rather ambiguous stage is when reviewers have been invited, but we are waiting for the required number to agree to review. In other words, at this point, the ball is squarely in the reviewers’ court!

In an ideal world, enough of the invited reviewers will agree to review and your manuscript will move on to the next stage. In reality, however, it is quite normal for invited reviewers to be unavailable and for your manuscript to return to one of the earlier stages a couple of times.


Awaiting Reviewer Scores

This is the stage that the editorial team will be striving to get your manuscript to as swiftly as possible. If your manuscript is at this stage, then enough experts have agreed to read and evaluate it and we just need to wait for the reviewers to return their comments so that a decision can be taken.

Once through this stage, your manuscript will move on to a stage such as “Awaiting Recommendation” and/or “Awaiting Decision” and it generally won’t be long before a decision is sent to you.


So That’s It?

That’s it. There are, of course, many things that can cause delays to the process, but the majority of manuscripts move from one stage to the next fairly swiftly.

Why is peer review taking so long?

The question peer-review administrators get asked more than any other is “How long will the peer review take?”.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this – you might as well be asking us how long a piece of string is. Yes, most journals will know how long it takes on average and, yes, all journals will have a timeframe in which they aim to reach a decision; but this is all very subject to change and delays regularly occur.


Securing reviewers

The number of reviews an editor needs to reach a decision varies journal to journal, but the standard number is two. When we invite an expert to review a paper, we are almost always asking them to give up their time and expertise for free – and they are not always able (or, for that matter, willing) to do so.

It is therefore quite usual for the first potential reviewers who are invited to be unavailable. And often the second. And sometimes the third. This naturally causes delays – especially during periods when everybody’s busy such as end of term, or over the summer when everybody’s on holiday.


Late reviews

Once the required number of reviewers have agreed to read and comment on your manuscript, we must then wait for them to submit their reviews. Reviewers will always be given a timeframe in which to return their review; how long they are given depends on the journal and the subject area. For example, a journal publishing up-to-the-minute scientific research will probably only allow the reviewers one or two weeks; while a humanities journal may give them several months.

However long the reviewer is given, there is very little the journal can do to ensure that they stick to the deadline, other than to send them reminders. For journals using a peer-review system such as ScholarOne Manuscripts or Editorial Manager, reminders will be sent out automatically as the deadline approaches.

Sadly, it is not unheard of for a reviewer to agree to comment on a paper but never return a review resulting in the editorial team having to find a replacement reviewer.


Getting a third opinion

More often than not, the reviewers will have similar views on whether a paper is worthy of publication; however in any field there is bound to be differences of opinion on occasion and this can result in an editor receiving one review recommending acceptance with only minor revisions and another recommending an outright rejection.

In cases such as these, it may be necessary to solicit another opinion. This is never ideal as it means that the whole process of inviting reviewers then waiting for them to return their comments has to start all over again.


Don’t worry, you won’t have been forgotten

The beauty of the online submission system is that it is virtually impossible for a manuscript to slip through the cracks entirely, however long it may have been delayed. Although you will only be able to see what stage it’s at (and it may have appeared to be stuck at that stage for a frustratingly long time); the editorial team will have details of precisely what action has been taken, warning notices to let us know that the manuscript has been at one stage for too long, and will be working hard behind the scenes to keep the delays to a minimum.


But peer review doesn’t always take ages

No, not at all. In the majority of cases, the peer-review process will move swiftly and you will be sent a decision within a few weeks of submission. We don’t want your manuscript to get delayed any more than you do – our job is to do everything we can to get the latest research published as swiftly as possible.

Help, my manuscript’s been unsubmitted!

You’ve finished your project and written your paper. You’ve researched the best journals in the subject area and know exactly which one you want to publish in. You go through the submission process, take a deep breath, cross everything, and hit that “submit” button. You get an email to confirm that the submission has been successful, you start breathing again, shut down your computer, and go pour yourself a glass of something strong.

The following morning, however, you are greeted with an email saying that your manuscript has been unsubmitted – the formatting’s wrong, you haven’t included an authorship statement, there are too many words in your abstract – and the hope of the previous evening comes crashing down around you. How has this happened? Why has this happened?? What does it mean???


First things first: don’t panic.

When a submission is received by a journal, the first thing that happens is that a member of the editorial team – usually an Editorial Assistant or Managing Editor – will check to ensure that it adheres to the rules for that particular journal.

The rules vary considerably from journal to journal. Some are very liberal and, so long as all the important bits have been included (abstract, text, references, etc), then they’ll approve it. Some are very strict and can unsubmit a new submission for as small an error as putting “et al” in the references after five authors instead of four.


Is this a sign that my paper’s going to be rejected?!

For most journals, the academic editors will not look at a manuscript until it has been checked and approved by the administrative staff. Unsubmission for corrections is a routine occurrence and will have no impact whatsoever on whether your manuscript goes on to be accepted. So don’t worry!


What do you do now?

The first thing to do is to read the email carefully. If any of the instructions or requests are unclear, hit reply and ask the editorial office for clarification. We’re here to help and want to get your manuscript ready for review as swiftly as possible.

We promise that if a journal is asking you to amend something it is generally for good reason, even if that reason is not entirely clear to you. The best thing to do is to simply make the amendments and follow the instructions to resubmit as soon as you are able.


Tips to avoid your work being unsubmitted
  1. If you’ve submitted to a journal before and the staff have asked you to amend something, re-read the email and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors don’t do this.
  2. Read the Instructions For Authors carefully and format your manuscript accordingly. It isn’t unheard of for a rule to change and the IFAs to go slightly out of date; but if your manuscript is formatted as described then the chances are it’ll be correct.
  3. Have a look at the latest issue of the journal (either in print or online) and see how the articles are laid out. If they include a Conflict of Interest statement, add a Conflict of Interest statement to your manuscript file. If the references are formatted in Chicago style, format your references in Chicago style. If the Abstract is structured using particular headings, use these headings to structure your Abstract.
In conclusion

Unsubmissions happen all the time and are a routine part of the process. If your manuscript gets unsubmitted, it is nothing to worry about and your research still has every chance of going on to be published, being widely cited, and helping to advance knowledge in your field.