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I recently tried submitting a paper to a journal. It was mandatory to suggest three reviewers. Is this a norm in journal submissions? If yes, how should one choose reviewers if I do not personally know any experts in the field? I have been submitting papers to conferences and never found such conditions there.

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    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2695/… – Bravo Jun 6 '13 at 12:54
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    You would need to find the word of mouth evidence of how the editors of this particular journal use this information. Some editors, being lazybones/busy people, just grab these names and send the paper out to them. Others assume that you provide the list of the easy-going people who will likely endorse your paper for non-existent merits, and never send requests to these people. There may be a continuum between these two positions, but that's what I often hear regarding how these suggestions are being utilized. – StasK Jun 6 '13 at 14:59
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    I know coming across at least one journal that used suggested reviewers as a benchmark of you knowing your field. They explicitly stated that, if they think your suggested reviewers are not the best possible experts to review your paper, it will be rejected without review. – ThomasH Jun 11 '13 at 17:25
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    @ThomasH Oh god. Please say you're making this up. – xLeitix Jan 15 '14 at 21:48
  • [humor] If the journal is good, suggest your best friends. If it is bad, your worst enemies. [/humor] If you don't know any experts in the field, you might probably wish to read more related work, which is mandatory anyway for serious research. – Leon Meier Sep 1 '17 at 14:36
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Being editor of a journal where authors can provide preferred and non-preferred reviewers, I can provide some "inside" thoughts on the subject based on what has happened in "my" journal. Note that it is possible to suggest names for review but also provide names which are not preferred. The latter can be because of a scientific disagreement, personal issues or whatever. Such suggestions appear but not often and we usually follow the suggestions (not that we have to!).

When it comes to the preferred or suggested reviewers, I have been tempted to use such reviewers on occasion when it has been hard to identify reviewers directly. Sometimes because the topic is local and where it would make sense to have local input. In these cases, I cannot remember a single reasonable review that has come out of such reviewers. This can be for several reasons but most often the review is a close colleague who might have an incentive to help the author. In some cases the preferred names have been very senior scientists who, I am afraid, has lost touch with the subject and provide poor and in some cases almost non-existent reviews. Out of all immediate "Accept" review recommendations I get, the vast majority have come from these reviewers. So, I not longer trust these names and avoid them at all costs unless I personally know or know of the reviewer and his or her good reputation.

In addition to what I just describe, I also must state that it is often the weakest manuscripts that have listed several suggestions. This can be identified by the disparate review results, sometimes one accept (by the suggested reviewer) and one reject.

Now, in principle, there is nothing wrong with suggesting reviewers, I have done so myself when being requested. I have then as a principle gone for established and well renowned names in the community. The problem lies in suggesting names for a purpose other than to get a fair and objective review.

It is clear that the system can and is abused and since I became Editor-in-Chief, I have come to rely less and less on these suggestions and now mostly look upon them with suspicion and make selections from my own understanding of the field and investigations into the subject literature. The best suggestion, I can provide is to not avoid mentioning names but pick names that in your opinion can provide good constructive critique on your work (and not just favorable). A note on why you have selected names as preferred or non-preferred would greatly help as well since it puts your choice in a perspective.

  • Yes @YuichiroFujiwara, if it was only up to me to decide but it is not. That said, all such problems is subject to review by the editors to possibly improve on Instructions for Authors so hopefully improvements can still be made. I am not, however, sure that it is a disservice to not go along with suggestions, they are, after all, just suggestions. That doesn't meaa the names cannot be useful in other cases down the line. – Peter Jansson Jun 6 '13 at 13:14
  • @Dikran I'll delete my comments too. Sorry for my wording. It was surely inappropriate... – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jun 6 '13 at 13:42
  • I deeply appreaciate the discussion on my answer. I see the ethics in this as an important issue. The system with reviewers could be fine but abuse, to whatever extent it exists has negative repercussions. – Peter Jansson Jun 6 '13 at 13:43
  • "This can be seen identified very the disparate review results". Should this be "identified by"? – Faheem Mitha Jan 15 '14 at 22:28
  • Knowing from an editor where suggesting reviewers is required, (s)he said that half of the reviewers are taken from the list*, half are not from the list of suggested reviewers. However, with that editor, we usually suggest well-established people in the field, more to the senior level, never anyone from the own institute. I think that, at some level, reviewers will be able to look critically at a submission, even if the reviewers knows the (senior) author of a paper. To some extend, it is unavoidable that they have met, in case both author and reviewer are well established in the field. – Mark Sep 1 '17 at 16:10
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I was asked to do that several times by an editor after being told (s)he couldn't find referees for my submission (to the point that I now spontaneously tell the editor upon submission that I can suggest referees if need be), but I don't know of any journal (or conference) for which this is required.

Anyway, you don't need to know experts personally: you are suggesting referees, not forcing them on the editor (or your work on them), and whether or not you actually know them should be irrelevant (it's even better if you don't). Read your bibliography, see which authors come up most often, or whose work form the most important basis for your submission, or who would be the most interested in reading it based on their own work, and I'm sure you'll have plenty of names to suggest.

  • The reference list would be the first place an editor unfamiliar with the research topic would look into, anyway. So the referee suggestions should probably be more specific. There could be other people not on the list who have not published recently, or just have not published much, yet are deeply familiar with the topics of your paper -- e.g., in industry or government (this is quite typical for some areas in which I work: statistics; these people don't have the [academic luxury] time to publish their work). – StasK Jun 6 '13 at 14:41
  • @StasK: common sense would indeed suggest so, but I've seen caseS where the editor was perfectly happy with a list of referees built in that way. – Anthony Labarre Jun 6 '13 at 15:27
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    Here is a journal that wants at least 6 (!!) pubs.acs.org/page/enfuem/submission/suggesting_reviewers.html – DetlevCM Jun 17 '15 at 10:03
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Some journals explicitly ask about suggestions for reviewers with a submission, some will consider any suggestions that you make in the cover letter, and others (probably) will just ignore any such suggestion.

There are in fact scientific studies about the comparison between reviewers suggested by the authors, and those selected by the editor, for example this article in BMC Medicine. The overall conclusion seems to be that reviewers suggested by authors provide reviews of equal quality than those selected by the editor. While they are more likely to suggest acceptance in the initial review, at later stages these suggestions seem to equalize.

As an author, you should have a high interest in getting over that initial review, and if you do it well, suggesting reviewers is a very good opportunity for that. I'd always suggest to make use of such an opportunity, since you probably can judge best which potential reviewers will look favorably at your paper. And that's of course what you want.

If you know an expert personally, that's usually a good option. It has to be handled with care though. When you're too close to a suggested reviewer, the editor will give significantly less weight to the recommendation of that reviewer if he knows about personal ties. But if you go to conferences and talk to people about your research, you could suggest them as reviewers afterwards if they have similar interests. Or look at your reference list, as suggested in the answer by Anthony Labarre.

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    Reviewers that will look favourably on your paper is not what you should want. The purpose of review is to weed out papers that are too flawed to be publishable and to improve the quality of papers published. Ultimately it is in the best long-term interests of the authors for the reviewers to give them a hard time in order to maximise the quality of your papers that actually appear in print. If you can't convince those who don't already agree with you, the paper is probably not ready yet. – Dikran Marsupial Jun 6 '13 at 11:26
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    @DikranMarsupial As mentioned in the study I cited, the quality of the reviews is unaffected by whether they are suggested by the authors or selected by the editors. It's clear that the quality of the reviews is the most important point, but as an author I hope for high quality and favorable reviews. – silvado Jun 6 '13 at 11:40
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    I want favourable reviews from a reviewer that was not predisposed to be favourable, that is a much better test of the quality of the paper, flaws are less likely to go unnoticed, and my arguments will end up sharper. As I said, if your paper can only convince your friends, it needs strengthening, one that can convince your opponents is undoubtedly ready for publication. – Dikran Marsupial Jun 6 '13 at 11:52
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    @DikranMarsupial In an ideal world, reviewers would be neutral and objective. Unfortunately, it's often not the case in the real world. Assume there exists approach A and approach B to tackle the problem addressed in your paper, both scientifically sound, and you use approach A. I would recommend not suggesting someone who is known to oppose approach A in favor of approach B, unless you know the person to be particularly objective, or you want to get an unconstructive review along the lines "Reject because does not use approach B". – silvado Jan 23 '14 at 9:30
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    In the mathematical based sciences, objectivity seems to be a bit easier to achieve than in natural sciences. There, I have the feeling that opinions can be very strong and do affect reviews. – silvado Jan 25 '14 at 10:15
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In my opinion, this is a practice that should be strongly discouraged. While on average reviewers selected by the author give fair, high quality reviews, that doesn't mean that the unscrupulous can't exploit this opportunity to select reviewers that share opinions that are far from the scientific mainstream in order to get dubious arguments into the peer-reviewed literature. This is especially the case where the paper is on a contentious topic that is only tangentially relevant to the journal, so the action editor may not be able to easily find adequate reviewers from within their own field.

As an example, there are numerous papers published on climate related issues in energy, astronomy or general physics journals, which can easily be shown to be fundamentally flawed. Where the journal asks for the author to recommend reviewers, it does raise the question of how much this contributed to the evident failure of the review process. It seems to me to be better to avoid the problem ever arising.

Ultimately if the action editors cannot identify satisfactory reviewers by themselves, the work probably doesn't belong in the journal in the first place.

Being able to specify people who shouldn't be used as reviewers is, of course, another matter entirely.

To answer the question directly, suggests the names of reviewers that you consider to have the required expertise in your field and who can give you a rigorous, but constructive review. Don't choose people you know personally if there is someone equally well qualified that you don't know. I recall reading that when you receive reviews you are getting advice for free from experts who's time you couldn't afford to buy, so why not attempt to get the most value from it as you possibly can?

  • It's just a suggestion. If the editor thinks that suggested reviewers are not experts, she will not consult them. Plus she should always select additional reviewers. For example, the policy of BioMed Central is to solicit 6 reviews per paper, but the authors are asked to suggest only 4. And those suggested must not be from the same institution nor coauthors. – silvado Jun 6 '13 at 11:45
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    I know it is just a suggestion, but it is a suggestion that should not be necessary if the journal is appropriate and the action editors sufficiently familiar with the field. As it can lead to failures of the review process, the costs outweigh the benefits in my opinion (having wasted/spent time writing a few comments papers, one of which was for a journal that required the author to specify candidate reviewers). – Dikran Marsupial Jun 6 '13 at 12:12
  • The journals that require a list of suggested and/or undesirable reviewers are usually smart enough to put a disclaimer to disclose the conflicts of interests, if any, concerning these reviewers. – StasK Jun 6 '13 at 14:57
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    And if the author does not disclose or recognise the conflicts of interest? For example, there are several scientists that have tried to establish that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is a natural phenomenon and nothing to do with fossil fuel emissions (which is easily shown to be incorrect). Would it be a conflict of interest for this small group of scientists to write each others names down on lists of suggested reviewers, they may not have even actually met each other. It is not clear to me that there is any breach of ethics there. – Dikran Marsupial Jun 6 '13 at 15:11

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