The DOs and DON’Ts of Selecting Preferred Reviewers

Like many journals, Methods in Ecology and Evolution asks authors to submit a list of preferred reviewers along with their manuscript. This can be a difficult task and is often one that is overlooked or rushed when submitting. However, this list can be very important in the peer review process.

Why Do We Need Preferred Reviewers?

©Nic McPhee

©Nic McPhee

There are a number of reasons that we ask authors to provide preferred reviewers. These suggestions can be extremely useful in a number of situations. For example, if the Associate Editor is struggling to find referees for a paper, the preferred reviewers become a very valuable resource. Not only are they potential reviewers, but if they are unable to review the paper they can suggest other people who might be able to.

As Methods is a generalist journal, sometimes papers are submitted that do not fit perfectly into the areas of expertise of our Associate Editors. In cases such as these, the preferred reviewers can be a wonderful starting point for the reviewer search. Providing the Editors with a good list of experts in the subject (who they may not know off the top of their head) can make the peer review process quicker and easier for everyone involved.

While Editors are by no means required or obliged to choose the reviewers that authors suggest, the list can often be a source of inspiration. If the Editor chooses not to invite any of the preferred reviewers, they may use the suggestions to try to find people with similar expertise.

Providing a good list of preferred reviewers can speed up the peer review process and make it a much less stressful experience. So, what makes a preferred reviewer list good or bad? The DOs and DON’Ts below should help you to suggest the right reviewers for your paper.

The DOs of Choosing Preferred Reviewers

  1. CHOOSE SOME!

Providing a list of preferred reviewers is necessary for submitting to Methods, so this one might seem obvious. However, you shouldn’t just pick the first four people that pop into your head. Think about who could be a good reviewer before you begin the submission process; discuss your choices with colleagues and co-authors; look through your reference list to find ideas. Your aim should be to select people who will provide a constructive and balanced review of your paper. A well thought out preferred reviewer list can make the review process easier for you and the Editors, so a little prior planning can go a long way.

  1. Make sure your list has a wide coverage of the field

For Methods (and any generalist journal) it is important to include a wide coverage of the field in your reviewer list. Firstly, this shows that you are confident that your paper is likely to appeal to a broad audience – we are always looking for papers that will be of interest to significant number of our readers. These reviewers can also provide insights that you may not have thought of by approaching the paper from a different angle. This can both improve your paper and extend its potential reach.

  1. Suggest reviewers from around the world

Our readership is international and it’s vital to get global perspectives on manuscripts during the peer review process. As with reviewers from across the field, international reviewers can provide new insights on your work. If you only list reviewers from your own country, it can seem quite insular and isolationist to the Editor and they are less likely to invite people from your list. (This is still the case if you are based in Florida and suggest people from Alaska, Maine and Hawaii or if you’re in Plymouth and suggest reviewers in Aberdeen, Belfast and Newcastle.)

©Michael Coghlin

©Michael Coghlin

  1. Include some field-leading experts with specific interest in your topic

When you are suggesting reviewers, the key thing is to pick people who will provide a good, constructive review of your article. Leaders in your field will, of course, have the required knowledge and experience to be able to do this. Also, choosing one or two experts shows that you are confident your manuscript will stand up to intense scrutiny. When trying to decide on a leading expert, try to focus on people have specific knowledge of your topic and are not just ‘big names’ (see point 3 in the DON’T list for more on this).

  1. Have at least one Early Career Researcher on your list

It’s great to have a couple of field-leading experts on your suggested reviewer list, but there should also be at least one Early Career Researcher. There are a few reasons for this. From a pragmatic point of view, people who are in the early stages of their career receive less review invitations and are more likely to provide a review on time. Also, while the Associate Editor will probably know high-profile researchers in the field, they are less likely to know Early Career Researchers; if you don’t suggest them, they may not be contacted at all. This is also a great way to help young academics get involved in the peer review process.

  1. Suggest people you don’t know personally

It can feel a little awkward to suggest people that you have never met to review your manuscript. For some people it feels like adding work to someone’s schedule. Remember though, you are not forcing work on them. The decision of whether to invite them lies with the Editor and they always have the option to decline. Also, it is much better to suggest someone who you have never met rather than someone who may have a conflict of interest.

  1. Most importantly, EXPLAIN YOUR CHOICES

All of the above tips will help you to create a good preferred reviewers list. However, explaining your choices is the key to a great list of suggested reviewers. This should be included at the end of your cover letter and the explanations shouldn’t need to be more than a sentence or two. Providing the Editor with the reasons that you have suggested a particular reviewer will make it easier for them to decide who to invite to review your paper. It also gives you the opportunity to let the Editor know why someone on the list who they may not know (an Early Career Researcher for example) would be a good reviewer.

BONUS TIP: Look for a preferred Associate Editor

This is a slightly tangential – but related – tip and one that can help your paper. If there is a particular Associate Editor that you would like to handle your manuscript, let us know. The Senior Editors aren’t always able to assign the paper to this person, but they will always take your request into consideration. Highlighting which Associate Editor you would like your paper to be sent to makes life easier for the Senior Editors and makes it more likely that your paper will go to your ideal AE. You can find out more about all of our Associate Editors here.

The DON’Ts of Choosing Preferred Reviewers

  1. DON’T include anyone who has a conflict of interest

This may seem like another obvious start to the list, but it is the biggest DON’T of them all. Your list of preferred reviewers should not include anyone from your own institution (or any of your co-authors institutions), anyone that you have worked with extensively, or anyone who has a vested interest in your paper being accepted. The Editors are usually able to spot suggested reviewers with conflicts of interest and it will make them much more wary of your other recommendations. Attempting to get someone with a conflict of interest in your favour to review your paper is unethical and we would hope that none of the authors submitting to Methods would do this intentionally.

  1. DON’T just suggest your friends

Don’t assume that your friends will give you a good review! Sending in a list of friends as potential reviewers may seem like a great way to help your paper. In our experience though, this tactic often backfires. Reviewers who know one of the authors of a paper tend to be harsher in their review to avoid any possible suspicions of favouritism or conflicts of interest. Suggesting reviewers you don’t know is generally the best way to ensure a fair, balanced and constructive review.

  1. DON’T only recommend the biggest names in the field

Including one or two renowned academics at the top of their field is great (see point 4 above). Having a list that exclusively contains the most well-known researchers in the field is not. Subject-leading professors receive way more review invitations than they can accept, so it is unlikely that all of them will be able to review your paper. Selecting only the most famous people in the field also shows a lack of knowledge of the depth of the subject area and a lack of engagement with the journal’s peer review process. While it is recommended that you suggest field-leaders with specific knowledge of your topic, you should avoid suggesting experts who will only know your topic tangentially.

  1. DON’T just suggest people who you know will agree with everything you say

The idea of peer review is to assess and improve manuscripts before publication. If you choose people that will not challenge your research in any way, you are depriving yourself of one of the main benefits of the process. You will also open yourself up to criticism from people who disagree with you after publication, at which point it is significantly more difficult to make any changes or corrections. Having a reviewer who will search for errors, unclear assumptions, incomplete explanations etc. will help you to improve your paper immeasurably.

  1. DON’T include people who won’t provide a review on your list

If you know that a ‘big name’ in your field has a reputation for declining review invitations, don’t suggest them. Similarly, don’t suggest someone who won’t be interested in your paper (they will quite likely decline the invitation after reading the abstract). Declined review invitations or non-responses to review invitations slow down the peer review process and mean that it will take longer for you to receive a decision.

Your preferred reviewer list can be hugely beneficial to the Associate Editor who is working on your paper. It gives you a chance to help them in their reviewer selections and can speed up the peer review process. By following the above advice, you will be able to choose a great reviewer list and give your manuscript the best chance for a quick and smooth passage through peer review.

*As mentioned above, the Associate Editors are under no obligation to invite any of the preferred reviewers that you list in your submission. Decisions on who to invite to review lie with the Associate Editor and they are free to invite whoever they feel would be an appropriate reviewer*

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