Author: sociologyofeducation

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Recommending reviewers…?

Q: When I submit a paper to a journal, should I recommend possible reviewers to the editor?

Author: Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame

I think the short answer is “yes, by all means!” The longer answer is a bit more complicated and I’m guessing that opinions vary.
From an author’s perspective, recommending reviewers to an editor makes good sense. Ideally, we all want knowledgeable, fair, and conscientious reviewers to read and respond to our work. In particular, we always want reviewers who are a good “fit” with the topic and methods used in our papers. Nothing is more frustrating than getting a review of one’s paper where the reviewer (a) isn’t an expert in the area that you are studying, and/or (b) doesn’t understand the data/methods that you are using. Perhaps I’m being idealistic here, but I think most of us actually want reviewers who can help us improve our work! After all, that is one important part of the review process, isn’t it? Good reviewers should evenhandedly judge the quality of work, while also providing useful and constructive suggestions for improvement. If you know scholars who the “fit the bill,” then by all means – tell the editor who these people are!
Having said this, it can be tempting to “stack the deck” with friendly reviewers (or just plain “friends!), who you know will like and support your work. (E.g., “my research finds strong support for theory X – please send my paper for review to the three main proponents of theory X.”) If you are rather blatant about this, it may make you look bad in the eyes of the editor, and – maybe s/he might be less likely to acquiesce to your request, and avoid your recommendations altogether.
I will also recommend against the following practice: asking a faculty member to “pre-review” your paper and then, after making revisions based on his/her feedback, recommending that person as a reviewer for your paper! I have had this happen on more than one occasion, and perhaps it was just a coincidence. But – personally, I can’t help but feel that I’ve “been had” when this happens. In fact, in these cases, I decline the request to serve as a reviewer. From my perspective, I’ve already affected the paper, and it’s time for someone else to weigh in and evaluate the work.
Now – I must confess that I have never asked an editor how they feel about this practice. I would think that, from an editor’s perspective, it certainly makes life easier, since it must be challenging to think of three or more reviewers who would be a good fit for every paper they receive. It has to be particularly useful for ASR and AJS, where editors are getting papers from many subfields with which they are quite unfamiliar. I’m guessing that most editors pick one or two people that they trust from the author’s suggested list, and then pick a few reviewers who are not on the list.
So – in short, it is advisable to recommend a few (two or three?) reviewers whose opinions and feedback you respect and look forward to receiving. It will probably increase the chances that you will get high quality reviews of your work – and, in an imperfect world, I think that about all that any of us can ask for.