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!