I've received an invitation from an editor of a journal to review an article. After a brief reading, I've determined that the article's scope is beyond my area of expertise, leading me to decline the invitation. In the invitation letter, the editor kindly asked for alternative reviewer suggestions in case of my declination. While I am aware of potential reviewers who would be suitable for this article based on my past experiences, I have no personal contact with them (I knew them solely from reading their works).

Should I include them as recommendations?


7 Answers 7


Yes, definitely. Speaking as an editor, I would love that. If the paper came to you, it means the editor doesn't know who has the relevant expertise. Your recommendation of a specific person with the expertise will help the editor a lot, and earn you some good will from the editor. Probably they won't tell the other person that it was you who recommended them.

  • 22
    @nanoman I don't think that linked comment ("Never, ever, use another's name for anything without asking first.") applies here. The response in that thread was about listing someone as an academic reference without asking first, which I agree is a bad idea, as it implies a degree of familiarity with and approval of the referenced person's work. By contrast, recommending a colleague for a review of someone else's work based on their expertise is much less problematic.
    – J.Galt
    Commented May 1 at 9:17
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    @J.Galt it's the difference between speaking of someone and speaking for someone.
    – fectin
    Commented May 1 at 13:32
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    @J.Galt Yes, that thread's question was about listing someone as a reference, but the comment was emphatically much broader ("for anything"). Bob Brown went on to say in follow-up comments there: "not even to nominate someone for a prize" and "anything that implies an obligation, however small". Based on this, I am comfortable asserting that to recommend someone as a reviewer for an article, without asking first, falls within the space that Bob Brown disapproved.
    – nanoman
    Commented May 1 at 16:28
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    @nanoman note that having your name suggested as a possible referee does not imply any obligation whatsoever. We are all free to reject referee requests, and we all do so regularly. The OP is doing so right in this post. Mentioning a name as a possible referee does not in any way imply you believe they will do it or will want to do it, it just says you believe they have the necessary expertise. No more than that. There is no obligation implied, you are not forcing anyone into anything.
    – terdon
    Commented May 1 at 18:25
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    @nanoman: The OP's situation seems more like providing the editor with some good reading on the subject. I don't think that using author names to point someone to their published works requires prior permission. So, I see no problem there, provided that the journal in question looks legit. Commented May 2 at 16:17

Sure, why not? There's no downside for you, and the editor is likely to appreciate it.

  • The downside might be that the MS is very poor and burdensome to review. The suggested reviewer might try to find out who lumbered them with the thing!
    – Deipatrous
    Commented May 2 at 15:23
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    @Deipatrous they could always decline (or write a short review saying the manuscript is very poor and not worth reviewing).
    – Allure
    Commented May 2 at 15:28
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    @Deipatrous and they would find that the editor lumbered them with it, and not the person who mentioned their name. Suggesting reviewer names is a standard part f the review process, so if we are to get annoyed at anyone, it should be at the editor who took the recommendation and asked us to review. But really, if it is burdensome, you decline to review and there it ends.
    – terdon
    Commented May 2 at 15:34

It may make sense to know how the publisher uses such a recommendation in further communication with the potential reviewer. It happened that I recommended someone I knew. This person forwarded the message to me that they got from the publisher asking them to do the review. It sounded a lot like I was the one asking them to do the review which was simply not the case. I was quite upset with this, so I am more careful now with these kind of recommendations when I don't trust the publisher's policies.

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    Did the publisher send an email saying you declined to review but suggested them as a reviewer? That seems highly unusual. Most of the time one would simply register and invite the new reviewer, without mentioning why you are inviting them. Were you an editor for the paper?
    – Allure
    Commented May 2 at 15:29
  • @Allure, "Did the publisher send an email saying you declined to review but suggested them as a reviewer?" Yes, precisely that, and in a wording suggesting that it was me who asks the other person to do the review instead of myself. No, I was not an editor for the paper. Commented May 2 at 21:03

While I essentially agree with David White’s answer that this is fine and welcome and very usual, here is a slight counterpoint worth bearing in mind: it’s usually slightly better to suggest people you know personally, when possible. The editor is certainly primarily interested in finding someone with the right expertise — but relevant secondary factors include whether the person is a good reviewer, whether they’re currently taking on much reviewing, whether they have conflicts of interest with the paper, and so on. If you know someone well enough to judge some of these, then you can pre-filter a bit and give the editor more useful suggestions.


Having spent half an hour this afternoon whipping up potential referee names for a paper I am handling: oh, yes, please!

(And just to clarify, @snijderfrey, normally the editor should never say "I am contacting you on the recommendation of @snijderfrey". This is a breach of the confidentiality / anonymity of the editorial process. The editor / handling editor and journal staff know who the reviewers are, the reviewers don't and shouldn't know who the other reviewers are, because if they do, this gives rise to all sorts of biases. In some journals, you, as a reviewer, will receive a copy of the editorial decision sent to the authors, but you will get it in the same way the authors do: with the reviewers names removed. I am not talking about journals with non anonymous reviews, of course.)

  • "normally the editor should never say [...]", I 100% agree, it is just that it happened to me, and I would be surprised to learn that this never happened to anybody else. I cannot say anything about the odds, admittedly, because usually you would just not notice. Commented May 5 at 18:14

Yes, if you have good reason to believe that their expertise and competence is a good fit for the MS, then there should be no impediment.


I am certain most - if not all - of us have experienced this at some point in our academic careers. In the event that I am unable to review a piece, and I am aware of a colleague/peer whose area of expertise is a “right” fit, I am often inclined to provide that person’s email address for follow up. There is no harm in recommending an apropos expert to review a piece, and they are always free to decline if they are unavailable. While it is not something to be done often, again, there is no harm in doing so. The editor will likely send that person an email similar to the one you yourself recently received.

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