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How to improve manuscript reviewing?

November 5, 2013 - 20:23 -- Bart G.J. Knols

MalariaWorld as of today has 8102 registered members. We continuously check the validity of your email address to make sure that we remain connected with you, so you and 8101 other subscribers receive the MalariaWorld newsletter every single week of the year. This November we celebrated our fourth year of providing services to you. This was also a time to once more review our progress, including the progress we are making with the MalariaWorld Journal. The journal is now in its 4th volume and it is maturing, but we identified some real difficulties, one of which I want to bring to your attention here: manuscript reviewing...

As a scientist, whenever you have written up your work in the form of a manuscript ready to be submitted, you feel satisfied and maybe a bit excited. 'Will the journal to which I submit my work view it favourably and publish it?' I have witnessed this same feeling many times before.

Being on 'the other side', the side of being an Editor of a journal, in this case the MalariaWorld Journal, poses completely different challenges. When it gets to reviewing the overall merit of the manuscript before sending it out for review, this is never much of an issue. We quickly get a feel for the quality of the manuscript in front of us. But then the problem starts...

The huge increase in journals has meant that the number of times scientists receive requests to review manuscripts has also increased dramatically. I witness this also - almost every week I receive requests. Some I accept, which means an extra workload, but most I decline simply because I have to many other things to do.

But now as an Editor, when I send out requests to potential reviewers, I have really started to appreciate the severity of this problem. And, I may mention, when talking to other Editors, it shows that they battle with the same problem: It is becoming increasingly difficult to find (good) reviewers. Those that are well known in the field of malaria and have a high reputation, are simply swamped with requests, and many do not even decline requests anymore, they simply ignore the email with the request.

This is a serious development, one that I am struggling with, alongside other Editors of Journals. Good quality manuscripts, with good and novel data and information that may help to save lives, should get published without delay. Regretfully, the unnecessary delays caused by our own peers, are hindering the very progress we all desire.

So what to do about this? Suggestions are very welcome!


William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

I think I understand your frustration Bart.

But the problem might be due to selection of the brightest most active people as reviewers. As you point out, they are very busy.

However I have found that one of the joys of getting old, and retiring, is that I now have time to meditate, to read, to ponder, and to think about the beauty of creation and its complexity. So as long as I am asked to review an article within my field of interest, I am delighted to review it and offer comments.

In the malaria field I can think of a few obvious people retired from WHO such as Najera and Wernsdorfer.

I suppose the opposite might be true also. If you selected young newcomers who might have just graduated with a doctorate and their first publication. Their enthusiasm might make up for their lack of wide experience.

Bill, always writing

William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Dear Bill,
Very true - and I certainly will keep your suggestion in mind when searching for reviewers. The problem that may come is when manuscripts deal with novel molecular stuff where the retirees may have only limited experience with. So far this was not really an issue with our journal, but also something to bear in mind.
Alas, fast forward with the Journal!

William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

Good point Bart,

Although I am guessing that a balance of retirees and recent graduates might be a good idea, your comment means to me that the recent graduates would be more useful for papers on "novel molecular stuff". You could divide the papers up on that basis.

Incidentally, some journals ask the author to suggest reviewers. I don't think that is a good idea. I would naturally select reviewers who were likely to agree with my point of view. But I guess it indicates that other journals are also desperate to find reviewers.


William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates