When the editor receives a manuscript, he/she has to find a couple of suitable reviewers. I was wondering if the they were choosing the reviewers in order to match the expected manuscript quality?

What I mean is the following: if the editor receives a manuscript that seems to describe a major breakthrough, will he/she choose preferentially well known scientists to review it? On the other hand, if the manuscript does not seems good, will he/she prefer younger, less experienced researchers?

  • 1
    This question cannot reliably be answered. It depends is the only thing one can say.
    – my.back
    Apr 22, 2014 at 17:51
  • This is often, but not always, true.
    – Anonymous
    Apr 22, 2014 at 17:54
  • If so, then this is a similar idea to supervisors/advisors strategically selecting thesis examiners on the basis of their seniority to match the quality of a thesis. However, sending a lesser quality thesis to a more junior ranked examiner might backfire; the examiner might be trying to prove something or be overly critical because they think that's what examiners have to do. A good supervisor will be aware of all this and will be able to steer away from examiners who want to prove something.
    – Jangari
    Apr 22, 2014 at 23:07

3 Answers 3


Editors try to maintain a good status of papers published in "their" journal. There is no obvious point in using different standards for different papers and I am sure that such differences are not concious decisions if they appear. If an editor receives a paper that is outside of their comfort zone, it is of course possible they are not aware of possible good reviewers and may make seemingly odd choices. How common this is will be difficult to assess but that it occurs is certain.

In the specific of receiving something of breakthrough character, the procedure should normally be the same. However, an editor always has the choice of adding as many reviewers as they see fit. If a controversial paper appears, it will likely receive quite varying reviews and adding additional reviewers may be useful to get a sense of the quality of the work. This does not necessarily mean an editor will go for specific names but I can see that it may be the case that one would go for prominent names for such a paper.

In my experience as editor and author (and reviewer) I often get the sense that good science receives far harsher reviews than poorer. I do not think this is because the good stuff are assigned to "better" scientists, I actually think it is because a good paper is easier to fault be cause it is more transparent than poor papers which are muddled.

So, in short, there are many aspects to how papers are run through a review process. Choice of reviewers is not generally done after quality of the paper although it can happen. In the end a journal, through its editors, want to retain its status and letting poor papers through, does not serve such a purpose.


There is an element of logical necessity in the question you ask.

Let us start with the case of a really major breakthrough, think epoch-making result. In that case, editors will of course try to select someone who is able to understand and verify the work, so someone who presumably has notoriously an outstanding command of the topic, who is known for extreme precision and for the ability to easily incorporate new insights. Such a person has highly desirable qualities in order to produce outstanding research and is known for having them. The odds are that that person has produced top-quality research.

Now consider the fact that such persons are by definition rare, so as they are busy reviewing outstanding submissions, other people have to review less outstanding submissions. So in general, yes, submission credibly claiming a breakthrough are much more likely to be reviewed by well-known scientists or (logically equivalently) submissions claiming much more modest progress or claiming breakthroughs but rather dubiously are more likely to be reviewed by less well-known scientists.

But, as always, there are exceptions. I know at least one relatively junior, relatively unknown scientist who has displayed such excellence and thoroughness in reviewing top manuscripts in his field that he is regularly asked to evaluate submissions whose quality and importance are way beyond his own published work; a statement which should not be considered a slight on the quality of his research: one of the submission earned its author a Fields medal.


My impression from working with one is that good editors seek reviews and reviewers necessary and sufficient to justify their decisions. If the paper is obviously good and obviously right, the reviews may only need to be light. If it's a major breakthrough that requires careful checking, then reviewers of the highest quality will be sought. On the other hand, if the paper has major flaws but comes from a well-known, well-regarded author, the editor will seek out someone known to produce the high-quality review but negative review they need.

More speculatively, borderline papers probably require a lot of work from the editor. If they are unsure whether they want to accept a paper or not, they need high quality reviews to make the decisions on whether to offer revisions or not. They also need reviewers willing to do the work of multiple review rounds in a timely fashion. This latter thought is entirely speculative, but it is commensurate with my experience from conference program committees and the borderline papers we reviewed there.

  • So, what you are saying is that the editor is deciding wether to accept the paper or not before sending it for review and choose the reviewers that will match its decision?
    – Wiliam
    Apr 23, 2014 at 3:29
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    @Wiliam That's not at all what he said. Bill said that the editor decides how thorough a review the paper needs (not the same thing as paper quality) and brings out the "big guns" (extra-high-quality reviewers) in cases where a paper needs to undergo extra-careful scrutiny.
    – ff524
    Apr 23, 2014 at 5:06
  • @Wiliam, I think that the editor has to have at least an idea of which way they're leaning before they send a paper out for review. That being said, I don't think decisions are made until the reviews are in. Usually the reviews will confirm their original impression, and sometimes they will change the editor's leanings. That's human nature.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 23, 2014 at 11:53

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