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I am writing a paper where the proofs involve more than one field of mathematics. Call them fields X and Y for simplification. This is not very unusual, but I think it may confuse the editor in the following sense:

There are several motivations for the paper coming from both fields X and Y. However, all technically hard parts in the proofs belong to field X.

So, in my opinion, it would be best to get at least 2 referees, at least one of them from field X (but another one from field Y would be great, at least to give comments regarding the motivation).

While I am not the first one to write about the problem my paper attacks, it is still a rather new problem, and an editor possibly will not have the right "feeling" about what kind of expertise is required for working on this problem.

Even more confusing: Previous work on this problem has been done through field Z, which is certainly not my approach (people from field Z will have to struggle quite a bit with the technical parts of my paper, as I had to struggle with reading their work).

My contribution in this paper is "generalization, theory building, solving some open problems stated by others, stating new open problems". But there is another contribution - I give new motivation which applies also to previous work (not done by me), but went unnoticed.

I would like to communicate to the editor the information regarding what kind of mathematicians I think should review my paper (when I submit it). However, I am afraid it may come out as very rude: Not only I am telling him how to do his work, I am telling him how to judge my own work! Yet, if I were the editor (I am young and not an editor anywhere), I think I would appreciate the information that "this is how the author thinks I should do my work".

Should I communicate any of this information to the editor? What part of it? If coming out as rude was not be an issue at all, I would send a list of possible reviewers explaining why they are good for the job in my opinion.

  • I think it is a reasonable idea, both to indicate what you just said (it involves fields X and Y but the proofs belong to X), and to make some suggestions accordingly. I've had bad experiences where the editor did not know who to ask to referee a paper because it belonged in several fields. The editors do not have to follow your suggestions, but they may still find them useful. Better than wasting months because of difficulties locating someone suitable. – Andrés E. Caicedo Oct 28 '17 at 12:58
  • It seems to me that the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th paragraphs of your question, suitably edited, would be appropriate to include in your cover letter to the editor. – Andreas Blass Oct 28 '17 at 15:32
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First, you need to write a good introduction to your paper, explaining all of the issues you have stated in the question. After all, if you are worried the editor will be confused about these issues, you should also be worried that readers of your paper will be confused (unless your aim is to only have readers who are in your subsubsubsubfield who already know these issues). State early in the introduction what kinds of technical expertise your reader will need. State that you are providing a new motivation to old problems. State that you do not use field Z at all.

Editors generally do read a few paragraphs into the introduction, so that should take care of some of the worry.

Second, when you are choosing a journal, try to choose one with an editor who is familiar with this area of work and will be able to look at your paper and choose the right reviewers. Ideally, the editor is someone who has at least seen you talk about your work (perhaps not this particular work but something related) at a conference or someone whose prior work is important to the paper.

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This certainly sounds like it could be communicated through a cover letter. This does not guarantee that your comments are actually being read by the associate editor, though - at least in my field, cover letters are uncommon enough for journal papers that I typically don't even check if there is one if I get a paper to handle. However, it is unclear to me what practical other ways you have to communicate with a handling editor where you don't know yet who it will be.

That said, you never have a guarantee that the editor will take your input on reviewers into account. Personally, I tend to be fairly sceptical about "suggested reviewers" or anything that approaches this - maybe I am too suspicious, but whenever authors suggest a reviewer, especially when not explicitly asked to do so, I immediately assume that this reviewer will be in some way positively biased, even if no conflict is obvious from the outside.

So my summary is - sure, (briefly) explain your reasoning in the cover letter, but don't get your hopes up too much that this will change substantially how your manuscript will be handled.

  • In our field, "suggested reviewers" can be taken as indication of how good the author thinks his/her paper is. An author suggesting leaders in the field expects his paper to be reviewed thoroughly, however, an author suggesting his colleagues and some unknown people who try to support the same specific hypothesis is likely looking for an easy way through peer review. – Mark Oct 28 '17 at 12:39
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In biophysics, many journals actually ask authors to provide suggestions for reviewers. If you have not done so already, have a look at the submission system and the author guidelines to see if this is the case for your journal.

Otherwise you may be able to choose the editor, so choose the one that you think understands your paper and has the right reviewer network to choose from.

In any case: make it clear in the key words and abstract of your paper what it is about. The editor will use these to choose the reviewers.

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Just include a covering letter that suggests that, although the paper uses both X and Y, it would probably be better to find reviewers who are X-theorists who know some Y, rather than Y-theorists who know some X. Z doesn't seem very relevant to reviewer choice, but you could mention early in the introduction (or perhaps even in the abstract, if it's significant enough) that you don't use any Z theory.

Some journals invite authors to suggest particular reviewers to use or avoid. If you're submitting to a journal that does that, you could use that section of the submission form to make this suggestion, instead of a covering letter.

  • Seems to have been covered thoroughly in the earlier answers.... – Solar Mike Oct 28 '17 at 19:35
  • @SolarMike I completely disagree. Alexander Woo only talks about how to write the paper and select the journal. louic talks about suggesting specific reviewers, choosing an appropriate editor and using keywords. xLeitix talks about covering letters but seems to conflate suggesting a field to draw reviewers from with suggesting specific reviewers. – David Richerby Oct 31 '17 at 22:30

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