CST BLOG: Lab Expectations

The official blog of Cell Signaling Technology (CST), where we discuss what to expect from your time at the bench, share tips, tricks, and information.

The Peer Review Process: What Is It, and How to Suggest Reviewers

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Peer review is the independent assessment of a manuscript by experts in related academic fields. It is designed to evaluate the quality, validity, and originality of papers for publication in scholarly journals. The ultimate purpose of a peer review is to preserve the integrity of science, and it’s one of the fairest methods of evaluating the quality of research.1

Despite its critical importance, early-career researchers often have limited resources for learning about peer review.2 If you’re getting ready to submit a paper or have one currently going through review, this post can help familiarize you with the process and offers some tips for peer review success.

What is the Peer Review Process?

Peer review methods vary among journals, including single-anonymized, double-anonymized, and open peer review.1 Single-anonymized is the most prevalent type of peer review, where the reviewers are kept anonymous but are aware of the identities of the paper’s author. In open peer review, the identities of both the author and reviewer are known by all participants. More recently, some journals have moved toward double-anonymized review, where both the author and reviewers are anonymous. The goal of this double-blind process is to mitigate the effects of potential implicit bias on the part of the reviewers.

The Scientific Peer Review Process

The peer review process can be broadly categorized into ten phases; however, these steps may differ from journal to journal. In a general sense, the following can give you an idea of what to expect.

Following manuscript submission, an editorial office assessment is conducted to verify its compliance with the journal’s author guidelines.3  The editor-in-chief will then evaluate your manuscript for quality, scope, and fit—manuscripts that do not meet these criteria will be rejected.

Depending on the size and organization of the journal, the editor-in-chief, associate editor, managing editor, or an editorial assistant will be assigned to oversee peer review.4  The handling editor will then send invitations to appropriate external reviewers. Manuscripts can be sent to multiple potential reviewers until the required number is secured, which, for most journals, is a minimum of two. Those invited to review will accept or decline depending on their expertise, availability, and conflicts of interest.3

The reviewers will then assess your manuscript, taking time to read it several times. The first read-through is to form an initial impression. If significant flaws are found, a reviewer can reject it without proceeding further. A second read-through is then conducted to build a comprehensive review, which is later submitted to the journal along with the reviewers’ recommendations.

The handling editor will consider the reviewers’ opinions before making an informed decision: accept, reject, or revise. If the reviews vary significantly, an additional reviewer may be invited before a final decision is made. As the author, you would then receive a decision email, including any relevant comments.3  If accepted, your paper then undergoes final quality checks and proceeds to the production stage, where it’s processed for publication. If rejected, or if minor or major revisions are required, constructive comments from the reviewers are communicated at this stage.3

Keep in mind that this process is nuanced, and it’s very rare that a paper is accepted in the first round of reviews, especially at a high-impact journal. Typically, the manuscript will undergo multiple rounds of review, and at any stage, reviewers can still ultimately reject the manuscript or request additional revisions. If a manuscript is rejected at one journal, an author may decide to either submit to a different journal, appeal the decision, or re-submit a revised manuscript.

The duration of the peer review process varies among journals—the average time to a decision is typically published on each journal’s website. However, you can expect to wait six to eight weeks before receiving a decision email from a journal editor.

Reviewer Selection

Peer review selection is crucial to the publication process. It is based on numerous factors, including expertise, reputation, previous performance, specific recommendations, and conflict of interest.5 While you may be prompted as the author to provide input, the choice of peer reviewers is ultimately the editor’s decision.

Excluded Reviewers

Some journals allow authors to exclude individuals as potential reviewers.5 These requests will be considered by the editor, but they are not obliged to fulfill them.

Some authors believe that excluded reviewers actually go to the front of the invitation line; however, if this were true, editors would not waste time seeking input! Editors take requests to exclude reviewers seriously—as long as they are feasible. For instance, opposing a reviewer to avoid a challenging review, a well-informed review, or a review from someone whose work is being criticized is unacceptable.

Journals recognize that in some instances, authors are better positioned to identify those best qualified to assess their research and may possess valid reasons for excluding reviewers—such as a competing research agenda, antagonistic personalities, or a negative history.

Suggested Reviewers

Similarly, some journals prompt authors to suggest potential reviewers. While editors may not invite every one of these reviewers, the suggestions can help expedite the peer review process. Additionally, compared to editor-suggested reviewers, author-suggested reviewers are less likely to advocate for manuscript rejection and more likely to recommend acceptance.6,7 As such, many editors opt to invite suggested reviewers unless there is a reason not to.

Conflict of Interest

Editors should be informed of any conflicts of interest—that is, any personal, professional, financial, or organizational connection with the author that could impact the reviewers’ ability to be objective and unbiased. If an author is aware of a colleague in any one of these categories of conflict, it is helpful to list them as an excluded reviewer.

Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid When Submitting Suggested Peer Reviewers

As an author, you can ensure you receive an effective, comprehensive review by providing diverse and well-informed recommendations that are useful to the editorial office. This will help accelerate the peer review process.

There is a huge pool of reviewers to select from, ranging from laboratory-leading professors to PhD candidates. Here are some best practices for recommending an appropriate list of reviewers.

Recommend Four or Five Reviewers

While a journal typically requires a minimum of two reviewers, proposing four or five names is optimal as it provides the editor with a more varied and useful selection to choose from. This recommendation supplements the list of potential reviewers the editor may be considering, facilitating a more efficient process.

Suggesting more than six or seven reviewers may complicate the editor’s decision-making procedures. In such cases, the editor may opt for reviewers from their own network rather than attempting to choose from an extensive list.

Suggest the Experts

Recommend reviewers with expertise in each aspect of the manuscript, especially if it is highly interdisciplinary. Proposing individuals with specific expertise and others with a general understanding of the topic is beneficial, as it will provide both a niche and a broader perspective.

To identify reviewers, explore the research field to find scholars willing to review—use your reference lists and search for other publications. Start with your professional network, excluding co-authors and colleagues. Instead, recommend other professionals whom you are familiar with, as well as second or third-degree connections. Remember to take your time and be thorough when providing suggestions.

Diversify the Reviewer Selection

Diversify your reviewer recommendations in terms of career stage, geographical location, ethnicity, and gender. While tenured professors can offer valuable feedback, similar insights can be gained from assistant professors and early career researchers who are often more eager to express their voices through peer review. If you do suggest a principal investigator or professor as a reviewer, be aware that he or she may choose to recruit postdocs or even senior grad students from their labs to assist with the review.

Likewise, do not assume that the most famous professor or researcher is best—they may be unwilling to invest time and frequently decline. Editors are also more likely to be aware of “big names,” and may find greater interest in an intelligent, insightful colleague with whom they have not yet worked.

Providing a diverse list of reviewers from various institutions, fields, and countries is an excellent way to connect communities and gain a unique perspective on the work. Many journals encourage the suggestion of reviewers from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Explain Your Suggestions

Provide an explanation for your recommendation, particularly if the connection between the suggested reviewer and the manuscript is not obvious. The explanations should be short, consisting of one or two sentences. They should clarify the relevance of the reviewer’s research to yours and explain why they may provide a valuable critique.

Who to Avoid as Suggested Reviewers

As mentioned, do not suggest co-authors or colleagues. You should also refrain from recommending emeritus professors (most decline or never respond to email invitations), individuals employed by your target journal, and reviewers whom you have suggested before.

Achieving Peer Review Success

The ideal reviewer suggestion would be an active researcher with expertise in at least one aspect of the manuscript—with that relevant knowledge clearly explained. While they may not be the most accomplished researcher, they should offer a fresh perspective to the work. Most importantly, they should have no personal, professional, or organizational ties with you as the author.

Suggesting individuals who meet these criteria can streamline the peer review process and potentially enhance publication success.

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References and Further Reading

  1. Chung KJ. Peer review and roles of the reviewer. Arch Craniofac Surg. 2019;20(6):345-346. doi:10.7181/acfs.2019.00787
  2. Gradoville MR, Deemer BR. Early career researchers have questions about peer review—we asked the ASLO editors for answers. L&O Letters. 2022; 7(3): 185-188. doi:10.1002/lol2. 10254. 
  3. Wiley Author Services. The peer review process. Wiley. Updated 2024.
  4. Tumin D, Tobias JD. The peer review process. Saudi J Anaesth. 2019;13(Suppl 1):S52-S58. doi:10.4103/sja.SJA 544_18
  5. Springer. Peer review policy, process and guidance. Springer. Updated 2023.
  6. Schroter S, Tite L, Hutchings A, Black N. Differences in review quality and recommendations for publication between peer reviewers suggested by authors or by editors. JAMA. 2026;295(3):314-317. doi:10.1001/jama.295.3.314
  7. Wager E, Parkin EC, Tamber PS. Are reviewers suggested by authors as good as those chosen by editors? Results of a rater-blinded, retrospective study. BMC Med. 2006:4:13. Published 2006 May 30. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-4-13

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Kenneth Buck, PhD
Kenneth Buck, PhD
A cell biologist by training, Ken received a PhD at Rutgers and continued as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, where he studied cytoskeletal dynamics and signaling mechanisms involved in the cellular motility of regenerating neurons. At CST, Ken collaborates with scientists to create multimedia scientific communications. When he's not writing video scripts or in the studio, he can be observed in his natural habitat, mountain biking with colleagues on the rocky North Shore of Massachusetts.

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