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I am about to submit a paper, and I'm asked whether I want anybody to be excluded from consideration as a reviewer. I also need to state a reason. I briefly considered listing someone who - I have reasons to believe - once reviewed a paper of mine by listing criticisms that were unspecific enough that I spent a very large amount of time just trying to figure out what they meant. Of course my guess could be wrong, and it seems unfair to label someone as a suboptimal reviewer based on a hunch. Which led me to wonder - what are some good reasons for asking for exclusion of a reviewer? And additionally, what would polite wordings be for each of these reasons?

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You should list reviewers (if any) that you think may be unfairly biased towards your science in some specific way. this includes persons with whom there may be a personal conflict that would shadow an objective review or people who have shown an unmitigated dislike for your science or the like. It is not intended to be used to list persons just because they may not agree with your science. In the specific case you list, I can see that such a reviewer may be unwanted but I do not think the reasons are strong enough to warrant signalling the reviewer as unwanted. The chances of the reviewer being asked may be small if there are many others that can be considered useful. Finally, if you were still to receive a review that is as unclear as the one you describe, you should ask the editor to clarify what you should read out from the review. After all, the editor must have read the review and used it to evaluate the degree of revisions necessary of your manuscript. So in short, you should save the nasty for listing as unwanted or non-preferred (whatever the journal terminology may be) reviewer.

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Not that it's also the case when the bias is in favor of the author. A good reason to exclude a reviewer is if you have close ties to this person, whether professional or personal. Especially if they are not obvious to the editor (such as working in the same group and sharing authorship of previous publications). –  Jigg Aug 13 at 20:26
    
Thank you. I'm not going to list this person because I also think it's not a strong enough reason, it was just the trigger for this question. Someone I'll certainly list is a person I'm collaborating with on some additional analyses of the same dataset, but that is quite clear-cut: he has too much incentive to want this paper published. –  Ana Aug 13 at 20:35
    
But still, I am interested - how would you politely say 'this person has shown an unmitigated dislike for my science'? Surely you can't just say that to the editor? –  Ana Aug 13 at 20:45
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Does the letter from the editor require you to give reasons? Many times you're not require to list the reasons, just the names. –  RoboKaren Aug 13 at 22:45
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You could be vague and say "served as reviewer in recent past" -- most journals know the importance of making sure single people don't serve as gatekeepers to small fields –  RoboKaren Aug 14 at 12:57

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