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For years, editors have been searching for a better, faster, more thorough way to find and retain reviewers. Today, a new feature in EES will make the search for qualified reviewers more straightforward and simple than ever before. Editors’ Update spoke with John Lardee, Egbert van Wezenbeek and Graham Brumfield about the opportunities this new tool offers.

“Journal editors have been asking for a tool like this for years, so we knew we’d need their involvement from the very beginning,” explains John Lardee, Senior Project Manager. “When the project officially began in September 2009, we found a group of editors who were able to help us create the best reviewer search tool possible,” he explains.

And that meant listening to the real concerns editors had about finding and retaining qualified reviewers. “Not surprisingly, part of the reason it is so hard to find reviewers is that they are often asked to review papers that are outside of their field of expertise,” Egbert van Wezenbeek, Director Publication Process Development, explains. “After a while, they become frustrated with the mismatch. For editors, this implies they have to spend more time to arrive at the right number of reviewers, which negatively affects the speed of the peer review process.”

Matching apples with apples

To create a tool that would benefit editors and reviewers alike, the team utilized SciVerse Scopus (Elsevier’s abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature and quality web sources), and connected this to EES, Elsevier’s online submission and peer review system. The vast majority of Elsevier journals utilize EES, so it made sense to link the reviewer search tool to this system. From EES, editors can seamlessly access the new tool, search for new reviewers and import them into EES, and send invitations to review a manuscript.

“By linking the search tool to Scopus through EES, we can ensure that the tool is readily available to editors at the point they need to be searching and inviting reviewers,” Graham Brumfield, Manager Publishing Services, GMR, says. “And the link with Scopus means we can offer the most complete list of viable, qualified reviewers available in each subject area.”

The tool even includes a ‘Conflict of Interest’ feature, which will highlight any potential conflicts of interests (such as previous co-authorship) between the author and the potential reviewer. This not only saves valuable time, but also helps maintain good relationships with reviewers. If reviewers are contacted less frequently, but with more relevant papers to review, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about participating in the Peer Review process. The team also hopes it will help editors to expand their network of reviewers, for example by recruiting younger scientists as reviewers.

Overall, besides improving editor satisfaction via offering the tool in a seamless way, the goals of the tool include improving and speeding up the peer review process, improving reviewers’ satisfaction by inviting them to review more relevant manuscripts, and increasing authors’ satisfaction by helping manuscripts through the peer review process, faster.

We knew the best way to develop a useful tool was to work directly with editors who would use it.

From the horse’s mouth

“We knew the best way to develop a useful tool was to work directly with editors who would eventually use it,” Brumfield says. “We studied search habits, responses to different products in the market, and the effect of building the system into EES.”

In the development phase, it was, again, the editors that provided the proof of concept. The team asked editors to bring in two recent examples of reviewer search cases – one, in which they’d already found a reviewer, and one for which they were having difficulty finding a qualified reviewer. “In both cases, the search functionality was able to quickly find viable alternative reviewers that the editors had not yet considered,” Lardee says. “Their pens were moving rapidly to jot down the names that were new to them.”

From concept to testing, from research to future development, it is the voice of journal editors that has led the process. “Of course, there’s been a real need for a tool like this for a long time, so editors helped us make decisions about how to get the tool up and running as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality or completeness of the search,” Brumfield explains. “The editors helped us decide which functionalities were absolutely crucial for this phase 1 roll-out, and which features could wait until future development phases.”

A step in the right direction

The new tool was launched in September 2010, and has been getting great reviews from its users. “We’re launching the tool to groups of 200 journals at a time, so that we can monitor the effect that the additional traffic has on the Scopus search functionality behind it. There was real concern that if we gave all our 1,600 journals on EES access to the tool at the same time, that would be too much for Scopus’ current capacity,” van Wezenbeek says.

As each group of 200 journals is given access to the tool, the effect on Scopus’ capacity is monitored carefully. Any potential issues will be addressed if, and when, they happen. By the end of 2010, all 1,600 Elsevier journals on EES are expected to have access to this exciting new tool. After all of them are on board, the team will continue to work on improvements, expansion of search functionality and search speed. At any rate, this first version of the tool is a giant step toward making the reviewer search faster, more complete and more manageable.

The progress to date

As is the case in many other respects, the habits of the editors already using the search tool vary according to subject area. Some journals use the tool only for cases in which they’re finding it particularly difficult to find a new, qualified reviewer. Other journals use the tool to identify potential conflicts of interest.

The goals include speeding up the peer review process, and improving reviewers' satisfaction.

“Although the interface and the concept of the tool are relatively simple, the technology behind it is rather complex,” Lardee says. “If an editor wanted to do a similar search without the tool, it’s certainly possible, but would be extremely time-consuming, and would come with a very large margin for error. Using Scopus helps us to ensure that we provide the most complete and accurate source data possible.”

Your access to the tool

When your journal gains access to the tool, you’ll be notified via letter or email from your Elsevier representative. However, you’ll also be able to see when you have access. Your EES user menus will change slightly, to include the new search functionality through the EES screens, Find Reviewers, Propose Reviewers and/or Select Reviewers. By clicking on ‘Invite Reviewers’, you will gain access to the tool.

Searches can be done by topic via keywords or by potential reviewer name. In the search results, potential reviewers can be sorted in various ways, enabling editors to determine their suitability. In addition, information on potential reviewers includes their relevant published work, h-index and affiliation. You can also obtain information on potential conflicts of interest with the manuscript under review, such as previous co-authorship or affiliation with the same institute.

To cite this article, please use: Toni Bellanca, “New Search Tool for Qualified Reviewers”, Elsevier Editors’ Update, issue 31, December 2010.

Useful Links

Reviewer Search Tool tutorial
Interactve Demo
Press Release announcing the tool’s launch