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Do editors have 3 of 4 simple rules they typically fall back on when selecting referees?

Such as picking candidate among recent citations in the submitted paper, or recent citations that appeared in their journal, picking close colleagues? ... are there any likely generalities?

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  • In practice, probably yes. But I would also bet the rules vary from editor to editor (and possibly from discipline to discpline). Oct 31, 2021 at 21:44

3 Answers 3

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Remember that the editors of journals are experts in their field and typically only get papers that are at least within the margins of their subject matter expertise. So:

Rule 1: If the paper is in an area you (=the editor) knows well, then you will also know all of the major players in the area and pick people from among your professional network as reviewers.

Rule 2: If you don't know the specific area well, ask around among your friends for the names of potential reviewers.

Rule 3: If you don't even know who to ask, go through the list of references at the end of the paper and try to identify the key papers; then use web searches to find out which of these key papers' authors are the key players. Contact them.

For 80% of papers, rules 1 and 2 are good enough.

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  • 1
    If it gets to three and none of the editors know who to ask then the paper is probably outside the scope of the journal (I'm assuming the other editors are in the set of people you know to ask). Nov 1, 2021 at 5:15
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    Yes, that's generally a good rule of thumb, though in practice it is difficult to really cover all areas a journal publishes on the editorial board. Nov 1, 2021 at 15:27
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There is no hard and fast rules but…

  1. Many journals have a database of referees and associated keywords. It’s easy to search referees from this database,
  2. Some journals will ask authors to suggest referees,
  3. one can look at the bibliography for recent publications on the topic,
  4. One can use - say - Web of Knowledge to do keyword searches,
  5. One can use GoogleScholar to find who usually cites results from this group, or related groups in the same area,
  6. and of course personal experience and knowledge of the field.
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  • Asking authors to suggest referees is something journals really shouldn't do, especially in "contentious" fields. This has resulted in several failures of the peer review process in the field of climate change where obviously incorrect papers have been published because this approach allowed "pal review". Nov 1, 2021 at 5:18
  • @DikranMarsupial well... it's not inherently bad to suggest referees, but it's up to the journal (or the associate editor) to do due diligence and make sure "pal review" does not occur. Nov 1, 2021 at 12:33
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In addition to the guidelines given by Wolfgang Bangerth and ZeroTheHero, there is also:

  • The reviewers might be suggested, e.g. if we invite A using the other methods, and A declines, recommending B instead, then we are likely to invite B.
  • The reviewer is not currently reviewing some other paper for the journal (or had reviewed several papers recently for the journal).

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