Inviting external reviewers

Inviting external reviewers: how many? when?


How many external reviewers should be invited to review a manuscript and at which point? Is there an industry norm or recommended strategy, and what features would be necessary to support this functionality?


Upon receiving a new manuscript, a chain reaction is set into motion at the editorial office of the peer review journal. The editorial staff will typically review the submission to be sure it complies with guidelines, then contact an Editor-in-Chief, and either the EiC or a sub-editor will then be responsible for the peer review process for this manuscript, which starts with inviting external reviewers. The details of the invitation process, however, is unique to each journal and sometimes manuscript. How many external reviewers should be invited and at which intervals? What standard invitation workflow is right  for your journal, and which features support that workflow and its exceptions? 


Time to publication and invites

In an ideal world, perhaps a single external reviewer would be invited at a time, and perhaps there would be an abundance to time at the editor’s disposal to await the first invitees response… but in today’s fast-paced academic publishing world, this may not be realistic. Today, almost every journal is challenged to reduce time to publication in order to stay competitive. The need to reduce time to publication then influences the review process, where there is a certain amount of pressure to be as efficient as possible. With this in mind, the efficient peer review journal has a modern tool for searching for and inviting reviewers that is effective and easy to use. 


Features of a modern invitation process

When choosing your editorial management software, it will be to your advantage to select a system that has customizable features to support a modern peer review invitation process workflow. For example, can your system compile and store a list of potential reviewers? If it is able to do so, an editor can save valuable time by selecting potential reviewers all at once, and then, later, with one click, sending out the next invitation.  Alternatively, an editor could prefer to invite all on the “potential reviewers” list at once, casting the net as widely as possible from the start, and cancelling the extraneous invites once the required reviews are in. For this purpose, it would be useful to know whether the platform can perform multiple simultaneous invitations.

Though multiple simultaneous invitations may sound like a chaotic approach to inviting reviewers, it is often practical as it can be quite normal that a percentage of invited reviewers will not respond immediately. Though reasons for a lack of response vary, there are always some that do not wish to review, while others may not have received the invitation due to vacation time, sabbaticals or faulty reviewer profile information. This is why being able to send multiple invitations at once can be a valuable asset in the process of securing the number of specialized reviewers required. In addition, it is even more valuable to have a system with the capability to follow-up on the potential non-responders; and to automatically invite the next on the list should that be needed. Automatic invitation and cancellation features such as these can minimize manuscript processing time in the peer review process.



In the end, how many reviewers should be invited and what is the ideal process? While the number of reviewers is largely determined by the standard of the field or industry of your journal, it is normal for a research manuscript to require 2 external reviewers. A manuscript based on more abstract and theoretical research could require more reviewers depending upon subject matter and writing quality. 

The all-purpose approach:

Regardless of the subject matter of the manuscript, perhaps the all-purpose approach would be to compile an initial list of at least 6 potential external reviewers for each manuscript, and from that list, invite 3-4 reviewers initially. This strategy will minimize a loss of valuable time in the review process by providing at least one response to begin with, and a few potential reviewers to be invited later.

Features and capabilities:

Remember to keep the process easy for your editorial staff by choosing an editorial management system that is modern enough to include the following capabilities/features:

  • Ability to save a list of good potential reviewers
  • Capable of sending multiple invites simultaneously
  • Able to follow up on non-responders
  • Invites the next reviewer on the “potentials” list automatically



The number of reviewers required and the timing of the invitations sent out is ultimately decided by the editor responsible for the manuscript. Having a peer review software system that is user-friendly, making it easy for the responsible editor to adjust the number of required reviews as well as the invitation strategy is important. A system with these capabilities will be able to support a variety of modern day invitation workflows and keep your editors happy while maintaining the overall manuscript processing time at an ideal minimum. When selecting a new peer review system, remember to keep these factors in mind. In this day and age, there is no reason to settle for a one-size-fits-all reviewer invitation solution. Nor would it be unusual for a journal to evolve over time, requiring a change in standard process. Choose a system that can accommodate automatic standard processes, manual overrides and customizations as your journal grows and changes.


“Remember that choosing a modern editorial management system will give you the features to support an efficient invitation process.”


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