Should I recommend a reviewer for my manuscript?

Many biomedical journals offer authors an opportunity to identify potential reviewers for their manuscript. Published evidence has consistently supported the conclusion that author-recommended reviewers respond more favorably to submitted manuscripts than editor-selected reviewers. In a recent publication, Kowalczuk, MK et al (BMJ Open.2015 Sep 29; 5(9):e008707) explored the impact of suggesting a reviewer on recommendations for acceptance/rejection at two BMC journals. Author-suggested reviewers recommended acceptance of 62 and 66% of manuscripts submitted to BMC Infectious Diseases and BMC Microbiology, respectively, whereas, editor-identified reviewers recommended acceptance of 31 and 38% of manuscripts submitted to these two journals. Author-suggested reviewers recommended rejection of 5 and 2% of manuscripts submitted to BMC Infectious Diseases and BMC Microbiology, respectively, whereas editor-identified reviewers recommended rejection of 17 and 21% of manuscripts submitted to these two journals. These findings are consistent with those of previous studies on this topic (Moore, JL., et al. 2011. Am Soc Nephrol 22:1598; Bornmann L, and Daniel H-D. 2010. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13345.; Wager E. et al. 2006 BMC Medicine 4:13; Schroter S et al; 2006. JAMA 295:314).

When recommending a reviewer, you must be certain that the individual recommended has the expertise necessary to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript being reviewed, evidenced by significant peer-reviewed publications on closely related topics. It’s equally important that the individual recommended have no direct collaborative or mentor-mentee relationship, or work at the same institution as any author of the submitted manuscript, as this would constitute a conflict of interest. Similarly, if reviewers are recommended, and the journal considering the manuscript for publication follows the common policy of maintaining confidentiality of reviewers, the authors should not contact recommended reviewers to determine if they were asked to review their manuscript; the potential reviewer may wish to maintain this confidentiality.

As the number of biomedical journals has expanded substantially in the past 15 years, with a concomitant increase in the number of manuscripts requiring peer-review, many editors appreciate recommendations of qualified reviewers as this can simplify their job. Consequently, depending on the journal, it’s likely that at least one of your recommended reviewers will be asked to review your manuscript. Similarly, if there are individuals who you believe should be excluded from reviewing your manuscript, it’s appropriate to identify these individuals, and communicate (diplomatically) the reasons for recommending their exclusion; hopefully, this is a very short list. It is highly unlikely that the editor will ask these individuals to review your manuscript.

By recommending reviewers who you know have the expertise to critically assess your manuscript, and asking that specific individuals who are likely to provide a negative review be excluded, you’re likely to increase the probability that your manuscript is accepted for publication.

Chris Papasian presents the GWSW Seminar Writing and Publishing High-Impact Research Manuscripts and is coauthor of our workbook, Writing for Biomedical Publication. He is currently Professor and Chair of Biomedical Sciences at the UMKC School of Medicine, and Editor of the ASM journal, Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.