How did journal editors find peer reviewers before the internet? I personally find Google (& Web of Science and similar internet resources) such an invaluable tool that I can't imagine how editors from before the internet age did it. Presumably the only way is personal contacts, but one can only have so many personal contacts. There would also be no easy way to tell if a person is a suitable reviewer. Even if their papers can be found in the references of the article, they might still be a PhD student who's just starting out in the field.

Related: How do Journals find reviewers and their contact information? However, most of the methods described there rely on the internet.

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    Unless the research is interdisciplinary and you specifically want every sub-field covered, I personally see no harm in a PhD student being one of 3+ reviewers. Not to mention authors may appear in the references list more than once, author order gives information about seniority in many fields etc.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


There were several possibilities:

  1. Editor's personal knowledge
  2. Looking at the cited references
  3. Looking at the journals' indexes. At the time, journal would publish yearly indexes of the papers published by keyword and of the authors. Those indexes were an invaluable tool to have a panoramic view of a field, and to get a sense of who were the most prominent researchers. Nowadays the usage of indexes is lost in the Internet, but still in the 1990s one would spend hours in the library reading through those indexes.

I described the rest of the process at the time in this answer of mine.

Indeed, the whole review process, in which the exchanges were carried out mostly by ordinary mail, was much slower than nowadays. If you look at older papers it's not uncommon to see gaps of the order of the year between the manuscript reception date and the publication date.

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    @Allure Not necessarily because you could look at several journals, but likely. But note also that there wasn't the proliferation of journals we have today. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 2:06
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    There was also more of the notion of "the academy" as a community. It may have been smaller, perhaps somewhat exclusive and not so international, nor so fast, but people back then read each others' papers and over time came to know who each other were by reputation. Perhaps some day I'll post a question like "What ever happened to the notion of "the academy"?
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 3:16
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    @uhoh I was there and I saw it: the rat race ate it alive. R.I.P.
    – Ed V
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 3:25
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    There are still some fields that have a "community", for example, most people in RNA biology in the UK know of each other, or at least know the heads of labs. Model organism communities are famously tight-knit - the fly community, the worm community, the fish community. I know someone in the Group A strep community that claims their are only 4 labs in the UK and the whole community fits in a small meeting room. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 10:10
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    @allure once upon a rime their was the concept of the "house journal" - more or less everyone in a given field published most of their papers in the same journal (e.g. journal of cellular biology if you were a cell biologist) and "keeping up with the literature" consisted of read this journal, cover to cover, each month. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 10:13

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