Image Credit: Pat David
Image Credit: Pat David

Are you struggling to find scholars to peer review your journal’s newest submissions? Building a list of reviewers is one of the toughest parts of being an editor. It can be challenging to get your journal in front of researchers, who have countless demands competing for their attention, and getting them to agree to take time out of their hectic schedules to complete peer review assignments can prove harder still.

Given how difficult it is to find peer reviewers, it’s vital for your journal to be constantly taking steps to build up a database of willing candidates. Think of your reviewer database like you would a sports team. Make sure you have peer reviewers who are skilled players in your journal’s field of research (see what we did there?) and who are passionate about it, and above all make sure you have a large enough team so you can easily sub in new reviewers when one of your top picks gets too busy.

Wondering how you should go about building a reviewer database for your journal? Here are 5 tips to start:

Use your journal’s online networks to reach new reviewers

When it comes to building a reviewer database, the big question on every editor’s mind is - where do I find willing candidates? Unfortunately, there is no exact formula to do so; that’s why it’s so important to diversify your journal’s reviewer search.

One easy way to look for potential reviewers for your journal is to search existing databases of scholars. For example, at Scholastica we give our editor users access to a site-wide search of the more than 20,000 editors, authors, and reviewers using our site. Editors can search Scholastica to find scholars that match their peer reviewer criteria, looking at each scholar’s user profile to see their current professional position and any research interests that they’ve listed.

In addition to searching scholar databases available to you, you’ll want to put out calls for reviewers using all of your journal’s online channels. Some primary outlets to use, include:

  • Social media: Post periodic calls for peer reviewers on all of your journal’s social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • Journal website: Add a call for reviewers to your homepage or author information page to grab the attention of scholars interested in your publication.
  • Your journal’s email list: If you keep an email list of the scholars who have worked with your journal, you can send them a call for reviewers email. Invite those on your list to volunteer to review or to suggest other scholars in the field who may be interested.
  • Journal blog: If your journal has a blog you can also use it to post a call for peer reviewers.

In your calls for peer reviewers be sure to highlight your journal’s mission and the aims and scope of your publication. Invite scholars to privately contact you if they’re interested in future peer review assignments, and be sure to emphasize your appreciation for volunteers.

Invite referees to review for your journal before you need them

An important thing to keep in mind when you’re searching for peer reviewers is that you don’t have to wait to have a review assignment ready to reach out to reviewer prospects. In reality you can, and likely should, contact reviewers that you’re interested in working with in the future to introduce yourself and your journal and gauge their interest in working with you.

One example of an editor taking this approach is Marcel Minutolo, associate editor of Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management (JBAM), which uses Scholastica to manage peer review. Minutolo solicits peer reviewers via JBAM’s online outlets and uses Scholastica’s scholar-wide search feature to find researchers using Scholastica who fit JBAM’s reviewer criteria. Then, rather than just adding the possible reviewers he finds to a list of hopefuls, Minutolo goes one step further and actually contacts them.

“I email the possible reviewers I find and ask them if they’d be interested in hearing from JBAM when we have a review assignment that’s relevant to them. Then, for those who respond favorably, I use Scholastica’s built-in reviewer invitation feature to invite them to create a Scholastica profile so I can easily contact them in the future.”

Scholastica automatically keeps a record of all the reviewers Minutolo has worked with in a private table for him to reference. Minutolo can organize the reviewers in his table by the number of manuscripts they are currently working on or their average review turnaround time. He is also able to add tags to reviewers denoting their specialties and any internal notes his editorial team wants to keep, such as which reviewers they plan to contact next.

Wherever you choose to store your reviewer database be sure to organize it using relevant information, like reviewer specialty and availability, so that you can easily pull reviewers from the list as needed. Putting a system in place will help you avoid having to sift through all the names on your list every time you need a new contact.

Consider using your editors for peer review

In addition to searching for external peer reviewers, one option to ensure you always have enough available reviewers for your journal is to make them a part of your editorial board. One journal that does this is Sociological Science. The journal has a large group of consulting editors that the core editorial team calls upon to regularly peer review manuscripts. Each consulting editor agrees to be available to complete a certain number of peer reviews a year. This arrangement works out well for the journal, because it ensures reviewers are always available, and it benefits the reviewing editors because they are given a title that they can include on their CVs, whereas regular reviewer activity cannot be easily recorded.

Sociological Science still assigns external reviewers to each of its submissions, but by having its consulting editors handle initial manuscript review it is able to limit the expectations of external peer reviewers. The journal asks outside reviewers to simply state whether or not they think a manuscript is fit for publication and what if any apparent errors they see in the submission, without having to write up lengthy comments.

Remember to show appreciation for your reviewers often

A big part of building your journal’s reviewer database is maintaining the list of peer reviewers that you already have. The main thing to focus on here is appreciation. Always keep top of mind that scholars are doing your journal an invaluable service by voluntarily reviewing submissions, and let your reviewers know that their work means a lot to your journal and to the field. Some ways to thank reviewers include:

  • Publishing a list of all of the reviewers who’ve worked with your journal at the end of the year highlighting their service
  • Sending thank you emails to reviewers after they complete assignments
  • Giving reviewers access to free resources such as peer review best practices guides - many early-career scholars will thank you
  • Creating online certificates or awards systems to acknowledge reviewers

Once you’ve tried out these tips to build a reviewer database go back and do them all over again! The biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to building out a sustainable list of peer reviewers is to make your search for new reviewers and curation of your existing reviewer database a constant effort. You’ll want to always be on the lookout for innovative ways to find and appeal to potential peer reviewers down the line. If you stay ahead of the game, your journal will be in good shape.

Do you have additional tips for finding peer reviewers? We’d love to hear them! Please post in the comments below or share them on Twitter by tweeting us at @Scholasticahq.

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
Guide to Managing Reviewers Course
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