Selecting the Right Reviewers for Your Peer Review: The Significance and the Challenge

September 26, 2023


Peer Review Week 2023, themed around “The Future of Publishing,” prompts us to delve into a fundamental aspect of scholarly publishing: the meticulous process of selecting suitable reviewers. Peer review forms the bedrock of academic integrity, ensuring that research shared with the public undergoes rigorous scrutiny for accuracy and reliability. However, the path from manuscript submission to publication comes with its unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to aligning manuscripts with the ideal reviewers. 

The Peer Reviewer Selection Process

At the core of scholarly publishing lies the intricate process of peer review. This process involves identifying and inviting experts in the field to evaluate submitted work. The selection of these reviewers requires strategic thinking because their insights and expertise significantly influence the quality and credibility of the peer review.

The Importance of Matching the Right Reviewers

Supply and Demand

With the continued growth in output of academic journals and article submissions, there is an increased stress on supply and demand. In 2013, an editor had to invite an average of 1.9 reviewers to get a review done. By the end of 2017, this had increased to an average of 2.4 invitations for every completed review. If this trend continues, by 2025, an average of 3.6 invitations will be required to complete a single review.

On average, 2.7 reviews are completed for each submission across all research areas, although there is a wide range of review intensity, relative to submission rates, between research areas.

Enhancing Quality

Selecting the right reviewers for manuscripts is paramount. Subject matter experts are better positioned to evaluate the research’s validity, methodology, and significance, offering constructive feedback that can elevate the manuscript’s quality.

Timeliness and the Challenges Faced

The average time taken for peer review is 123 days. Expert reviewers can expedite the peer review process, providing timely assessments that reduce waiting times for authors and expedite publication timelines. Out of a group of 5,424 invited reviewers, only 42 percent agreed to review, revealing a challenge in securing reviewers for manuscripts.

Credibility and Rigor

Aligning reviewers’ expertise with the manuscript’s subject matter bolsters the credibility of the peer review. It reassures authors and readers that knowledgeable peers conduct the evaluation. Nature journals receive over 50,000 manuscripts annually, showcasing the vast scale of need for the peer review process.

Key Criteria/Guidelines for Reviewer Selection

In the process of selecting suitable reviewers for your manuscript, several key criteria and guidelines should be followed to ensure a fair and effective peer review process.

Expertise Is Essential

Reviewers must possess in-depth knowledge of the manuscript’s specific research area. Their publication record, academic credentials, and research focus should align with the manuscript’s subject matter.

Prioritize Active Researchers

Consider the availability and commitment of potential reviewers rather than solely targeting well-known researchers with high h-indices. Opt for active researchers in your field who can promptly complete reviews.

Guard against Negative Bias

Authors should refrain from suggesting reviewers with potential biases against their work. Such biases can compromise the fairness and objectivity of the peer review.

Navigate Conflicts of Interest

Authors must remain vigilant about potential conflicts of interest (COIs) when proposing reviewers. Journals typically provide guidelines for authors to disclose any COIs to uphold the integrity of the review process. However, it’s worth noting that 29 percent of reviewers reviewed more than one article, indicating potential conflicts.

Embrace Diversity in Reviewers

Strive for a diverse panel of reviewers, encompassing experienced tenure-track professors and early-career researchers to offer varied perspectives and engagement levels. However, 54 percent of peer reviewers couldn’t relate to the paper’s subject, indicating the need for more diverse expertise.

Evaluate Emeritus Professors Carefully

Exercise caution when suggesting emeritus professors as reviewers, considering their engagement. Refrain from suggesting emeritus professors, as they may not be actively participating in reviews.

Vary Your Choice of Reviewers

Avoid repetitively suggesting the same reviewers for a specific journal. Editors often prefer working with new colleagues to gain fresh insights.

Avoid Coauthors, Collaborators, and Close Ties

Maintain objectivity and impartiality by refraining from suggesting coauthors, collaborators, previous mentors, or individuals with close personal ties as reviewers.

Excluded Reviewers: A Delicate Matter

While choosing suitable reviewers is essential, it’s equally important to consider excluded reviewers.

Exclude individuals with whom you have declared COIs, such as active collaborators or financial dealings. Exercise reasonableness when requesting to exclude reviewers—particularly, in niche fields—as excessive exclusions can limit the number of available options.

Suggested Reviewers: Your Valuable Input

When suggesting reviewers, your input can significantly impact the peer review process.

Avoid assuming that the most prominent professor is always the best choice; consider their availability and workload. Never suggest a coauthor, as this constitutes a clear COI. Provide an explanation for your suggestion’s relevance, especially when the connection is not immediately apparent. Vary your suggestions for different submissions to assist editors in discovering new experts in your field.

Conflicts of Interest: A Nuanced Terrain

Understanding and addressing conflicts of interest is crucial.

Avoid suggesting reviewers who are recent collaborators with no substantial publication history together. Exercise caution when suggesting reviewers who share affiliations with the authors, as the depth of their relationship can be ambiguous. In cases of personal connections that might not be evident to editors, list potential conflicts when opposing reviewers.

Reviewer Comments: Keep the Guesswork Out

Last, it’s important to remember that suggested reviewers can provide comments just as critical or supportive as any other reviewer. Your thoughtful selection of reviewers and consideration of potential conflicts will contribute to a fair and rigorous peer review process.

Amnet’s Solution to the Reviewer Selection Challenge for Peer Review: Expertise and Automation

Nvcleus, from Amnet, can play a pivotal role in enhancing peer review. This platform offers a multifaceted approach, leveraging cutting-edge features to streamline the peer review process.

With over 20 years of experience in journal publishing, Amnet has established itself as a leading provider of expert services, including peer reviewer selection. However, progress waits for no one, and Nvcleus, the end-to-end publishing platform, now offers even more benefits. 

Effortless Reviewer Assignment

With Nvcleus, you can assign peer reviewers with remarkable ease, ensuring that experts in the field are readily available to evaluate manuscripts, thus expediting the review process.

Invitation and Control

Nvcleus empowers you to invite new peer reviewers effortlessly. Moreover, it provides these reviewers with the autonomy to accept or decline peer review requests, offering more control to both authors and reviewers.

Review Document Access

Peer reviewers using Nvcleus have the capability to access and evaluate the entire document at their convenience. This feature enhances their control and flexibility in the review process.

Submissions with Attachments

Nvcleus enables peer reviewers to submit their reviews directly on the platform, complete with any necessary attachments.

Real-Time Collaboration

Nvcleus offers a live chat feature that facilitates clear communication, enabling reviewers to seek clarifications and collaborate effectively during the review process.

In conclusion, peer review is an intricate process that demands careful reviewer selection. It significantly impacts the quality and credibility of scholarly publishing. 

Nvcleus offers a promising path to enhancing this essential aspect of academic research dissemination, making it more efficient and collaborative. As we embrace the future of publishing, let’s continue to refine the expertise of reviewer selection, ensuring that rigorous and reliable peer review remains at the heart of scholarly endeavors.

Are you ready to explore Nvcleus and harness its potential to advance your peer review process?