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I recently received an email asking to review for a reputable journal (I recognize the journal, and the person listed as Associate Editor is listed as an associate editor on the journal's editorial board).

I am not currently in a graduate program nor do I have a doctoral degree. However, I was a co-author of a single publication a few years ago, and I still work in research in a related field with a master's degree. I had never heard of someone who does not currently possess a terminal degree nor working towards one being asked to review. How common is it?

In addition, the email came to my work email, but it is not associated with the published article, and I did not have an account with them.

How do editors find potential reviewers and/or their contact information?

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    It's possible to be a reviewer without a doctoral degree. I worked in a research lab out of undergrad, published a few papers as part of that job, and later was asked to be a reviewer. I think my boss (a university professor and my co-author on the published work) either recommended me when someone reached out to him about reviewing or the paper authors suggested my name since they were building off the work in one of my papers. Oct 27 at 12:43

6 Answers 6

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There are a number of ways to identify reviewers

First, the journal may ask authors for so-called preferred reviewers, which are suggestions for reviewers.

Second, the editor, who likely is an expert in the field, may recognise experts to contact for reviews.

Thirdly, by looking into the reference list of a manuscript it may be clear who is behind the bulk of science on which the manuscript relies.

Fourth, a publisher with whom a journal is published may provide a database of reviewers who have contributed in the past according to a set of key words or expertise from which the editor may retreive useful contacts.

Thus, an editor relies on knowledge of the field, the basis upon which a study is built and indirect information from the manuscript and the journal or publisher.

As for contact information, that is a relatively simple task to extract from the sources of information from which the reviewer identity is extracted.

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    I'd add a fifth option: "Editors ask potential reviewers to suggest alternative reviewers (and provide contact information) in case they cannot review a manuscript".
    – Mark
    Oct 24 at 23:27
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    @Mark Good point Oct 25 at 0:05
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    Also: authors of papers referenced in the paper to be refereed. Oct 25 at 0:07
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    @EthanBolker Good point and that is what the third point is about although maybe poorly phrased Oct 25 at 0:31
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    I'll expand on number two: "The editor [...] may recognise experts or other researchers with similar research interests [...]." The first time I received a review request, it was because the editor remembered me giving a talk about a similar topic not long before. Being a second-year PhD student at the time, I don't think I was perceived as an "expert".
    – Sabine
    Oct 25 at 20:04
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The editor contacted some potential reviewers, asking them to review the paper or to at least forward him the contacts of someone that may be able to give a meaningful review.

One of your former co-authors may have thought of you as a possible good reviewer, forwarding the editor your contacts.

Be honored of the consideration your former co-authors have of you, then think carefully if you would be able (time-wise, mostly) to perform the review...

Side note: the only terminal degree you can get is a certificate of death.

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Back when I handled a journal, the most common method I used to find reviewers was to search Web of Science for related articles and invite the authors of those articles. Any submission to the journal will include an abstract, possibly keywords. Those keywords enable a Web of Science search for related articles, and as a bonus those related articles usually come with the contact information of their corresponding authors.

One of the upsides to doing it this way is that you avoid having to invite author-suggested reviewers (c.f. potential bias), although sometimes an author-suggested reviewer will show up in the Web of Science search anyway (which is a sign that the method is working!). Another upside is that Web of Science has some analytics tools to see which authors are writing the most articles, who is citing who, and so on. A third upside is that you typically end up with so many potential reviewers that you never overload or overuse any of them.

Downsides are sometimes you end up reaching people who, like you, may no longer be in the field or may no longer be research-active. It's possible to find things like this out by Google, but it's time-consuming especially if the name is common (especially the case for 2-character Chinese names). For the same reason it's possible to reach people who might not be very experienced in the field even though they've written a few articles in it.

In your case the invitation reached your work email that's not related to the published article. That makes it more likely it's a recommendation as opposed to a direct search. It could, for example, be that the original reviewer they invited declined, and recommended you. Still, possibilities abound; it's not possible to eliminate all the alternatives.

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I imagine the editor found the article you wrote, googled to see if you were still in research, and found you listed somewhere with your current work information. It quite often happens that I get requests via my current work email and not one associated with relevant papers.

It's certainly unusual (at least in my discipline) for someone neither having a doctoral degree nor working towards one to be asked to review. But that is because it is unusual for someone in that situation to be a suitable reviewer, and not because editors make any effort to avoid it. In this case it seems clear that you are a suitable reviewer, and I don't imagine an editor would feel the need to check whether you have a PhD.

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Some people will just get your e-mail and not care too much. Twice I have been invited to review for a journal in social sciences associated with Springer, presumably because someone found my e-mail address (surname)@(institute abbreviation).(university domain) somewhere and mistook me for a person X with the same surname. They seemingly didn't care to check that in that e-mail address part belongs to an institute of physics and the university domain to a university X was never affiliated to. Funny things... But an exception, I believe (and hope).

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    Did you review? ;-) related xkcd: xkcd.com/451
    – til_b
    Oct 26 at 11:56
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    I did not, but together with my e-mail declining the first review request I recommended to reject the paper because I had googled a bit and found that it was very likely plagiarized. :D
    – kricheli
    Oct 26 at 19:01
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I add one more option to the previous answer: Most journals are desperate to find just anyone to review for their articles as they expect reviewers to work for free. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work for free as journals make massive profits while expecting everybody else to work for free. This is why journals spam pretty much anyone who ever left an academic email address anywhere with review requests. I get tons of review requests for completely unrelated fields.

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    -1 does not answer the question, and is factually wrong.
    – Allure
    Oct 25 at 8:53

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