How to become a reviewer

#125: How to become a reviewer for a journal?

Do you want to become a peer-reviewer for an academic journal? Do you want to help journals assess papers but have not been asked yet and have no idea what you need to do to be invited? Here are 10 tips to help you become a reviewer for a journal. 

Sometimes, when you talk over lunch with your colleagues at the institute, they’ll mention a paper that they are reviewing at the moment. They talk about all the problems in the paper and how they’ll help the authors improve it. If you haven’t been a reviewer for a journal yet, you’re most likely listening more than contributing to the discussion because you lack experience as a reviewer. 

For some of your colleagues, reviewing is more of a burden than an activity they enjoy. But for you, it might be nice to have the chance to comment on the manuscripts of peers and contribute your expertise to this important academic duty. It would also mean that you’re part of the big world of scholars who mutually referee their work, and it would feel like an essential recognition of your standing in the field. But how can you do it if you’ve never been invited to review a paper? And if you’ve done it before, how can you make sure you’re invited again?  

We’re here to help you, and have suggested 10 tips that can lead to you becoming a reviewer for a journal. You don’t need to do all of them, but of course you’ll increase your chances of being invited as a reviewer the more you implement Our free worksheet How to become a reviewer will help you organise that review invitation from a journal editor.   

1. Publish papers

It sounds simple, but this is the number one piece of advice to become a reviewer: If you publish papers in journals, then your name will pop up in databases and will be connected to a certain field of research. The more papers you’ve published, the higher the likelihood that your name will come up when journal editors search for researchers who have expertise in this field. If you haven’t published a paper yet, your name won’t come up, but having at least one paper already out gets you into the game. The more papers you have published, the more you’re considered an expert in this field—and experts are sought after as reviewers by journal editors. 

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2. Update your professional website 

If you have a personal website at your institute or as part of a project, use it and update it with current information about your field of expertise. List publications you’ve produced and talks you’ve given. Show site visitors what you’ve got to offer and in which fields of research you work. If you haven’t got such a website, it might be a good idea to ask at your institute or make your own private research site that tells others about you. Again, if journal editors cannot find you online, the chances that they will ask you are low. 

3. Update your social media profile 

Social media platforms are used by journal editors as well. If you’re active on social media, show what you’ve got to offer. If you’ve published a paper, post a short note about it. Update your biography or your personal profile on platforms like LinkedIn because they work as search engines. Be specific about your field of research because a journal paper always addresses a very specific field, not a general one. LinkedIn is also a great place to connect with other researchers, see post #93, The top 5 reasons to have a LinkedIn profile as a scientist. 

4. Register on researcher networking sites, Google Scholar, or ORCiD 

In addition, make use of academic networking sites where you can present your field of expertise, e.g. have a profile on ResearchGate or academia.edu. They are great search tools and assist editors in finding potential reviewers. It is also good to have a Google Scholar profile and an account on ORCiD, which helps editors to identify you. This can be particularly relevant for people with names which are more common. There’s a good chance that there’s another ‘Barbara Miller’ or ‘Peter Davis’ working in your field and they could be mixed up with you. 

5. Register with the journal’s publisher 

A very simple but very effective step is to open an account with one of the large journal publishers (or at least with the publisher for whose journal you want to be invited) and register your name and your field of expertise. Publishers have large databases that they make available to the editors of their journals and, of course, they are happy to see people suggesting themselves to review papers for their journals. 

6. Look for calls for reviewers

Sometimes, journals publish a call for reviewers—this could be a new journal that is first building up a stock of reviewers or a journal that is in dire need of reviewers. So this is something to watch out for on social media or on journals’ websites. 

7. Approach journals and editors directly 

If you would be interested in reviewing for specific journals because the work published in these journals is highly relevant for you and you read their stuff regularly, then why not send a friendly message to the editorial office and offer your review service? Address the email to the journal’s editor and describe what type of papers and subjects you would be able to review. Describe also briefly what your specific expertise is and provide evidence (i.e. references) if possible. 

8. Tell colleagues to recommend you

Next time you talk to colleagues in your field, let them know that you would be available to review a paper for a journal. It might well happen that they get review invitations but for various reasons cannot or do not want to accept them. The journal usually asks them to recommend alternative reviewers. So if they know you are interested, they can recommend you to the journal. 

9. Network at conferences and become a member of a learned society

Academic conferences or meetings of learned societies are important networking events. They offer great possibilities to speak to other researchers who might be members of a journal’s editorial board or journal editors. Make yourself known to these people and let them know that you would be interested in reviewing journal papers. Make sure you get their name and contact address so you can send them an email afterwards where you refer to your talk at the conference and repeat your review offer. 

10. Take a reviewer training and list it on your public CV

Another way besides publishing papers would be to join a formal training as a reviewer, which demonstrates that you’ve also learned the necessary skills and techniques to do a good job. Mention the reviewer training on your CV or your website so that editors can see you’ve got this extra expertise. By the way, we also offer a course on “How to review a paper” that will not only teach you how to write a constructive review report, but also how to do it in the most time-efficient way. No reviewer wants to spend a great deal of their own time on someone else’s paper.

Conclusion 

You see, you don’t have to wait for a journal to eventually ask you to review a paper for them. We definitely recommend taking action if you’re interested in becoming a journal reviewer. Use the tips above and for sure you will soon get your first review invitation. If you’re worried about your ability to provide a good review report, then check post #89, What makes a good review report? But first,  let’s  work on getting you that invitation to become a reviewer for a journal! Check out our worksheet How to become a reviewer to help you with this step.  

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