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IEEE asks journal authors to submit the names of their (non-)preferred reviewers. Given it may not be appropriate to list an acquaintance as a reviewer, how does one judge if an anonymous person will be a good reviewer or not?

Is giving "non-preferred" reviewers akin to the author confiding about his academic relationships to the editor? Do people really need to fill this column up at all?

  • 2
    If you don't know whether someone would be an (in)appropriate reviewer, don't list them. – JeffE Jul 31 '12 at 15:28
  • You can leave the non-preferred blank if there is nobody you are trying to avoid. – guest Jan 22 '19 at 16:09
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It is generally worthwhile to identify people who both should and should not be invited to review a paper. Obviously most journals now require you to suggest names for reviewers—however, the editor is generally under no compulsion to invite these people to review the manuscript, if they feel other people are more suitable (or are more likely to accept the invitation).

The list of "non-preferred" reviewers is meant for "conflicts" rather than "conflicts of interest." If you have a direct competitor, or someone in the past who has been inappropriately hostile to your work, then you should list them here. However, as the original poster suggests, this could also be used to list "obvious" referees who shouldn't be candidates for a given paper if they are also collaborators of the authors (but perhaps not in the present work).

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    I sometimes referee papers written by people I have collaborated with. Indeed, in small subfields it is nearly impossible to avoid that. – David Ketcheson Jul 31 '12 at 11:37
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Just to add an editor’s perspective even though it partially duplicates the other answers:

Having seen the effect of preferred reviewers in the journal where I serve, I am not altogether happy about these options. The non-preferred category is one that I take seriously because conflicts can lead to bad or poor reviews for reasons other than the science. My problem is instead with the preferred reviewers.

When I assign reviewers I basically steer clear of the preferred reviewers as a rule. In the past when I have selected from this list, I have been extremely disappointed. Almost exclusively I have received accept reviews (accompanied by rejects from other reviewers), which I have been forced to deem practically useless and look for additional reviewers. I do not mean to say that all persons put on these lists provide poor reviews, but what I perceive as the original purpose namely to provide examples of names of persons whose objective opinion the author highly values is rapidly being drowned by names of friends. This has led me to stay clear of this list unless I myself recognize a name as somebody with integrity. I will nevertheless scrutinize that review with a hint of suspicion based on the experience I have. One way to avoid this could be to add a line or two stating why you have selected these names as preferred. This would help evaluate the usefulness of such reviewers. Sadly many submission systems do not allow for such comments except in the submission letter.

So I agree with the others answers, provide particularly non-preferred names but feel free to add also preferred but do not count on the preferred names to be used.

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A "non-preferred" reviewer is typically someone who may have personal or subjective reasons to react negatively to your work, regardless of its scientific content. It is not intended to be a disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

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An additional reason to list someone as non-preferred may not be a personal conflict or bad quality reviews, but you may suggest to the editor that someone seems to work in the same field, but probably does not have the right focus for reviewing your work. This is not always obvious for someone who isn't that involved in the field and may think that you're works are quite similar.

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