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We know that finding and retaining good reviewers is one of the greatest challenges our editors face.

In March this year, we collaborated with editors on 32 journals to find a simple way to recognize the contributions of ‘top’ reviewers - those who have really gone that extra mile for a journal. The result was the Certificate of Excellence in Reviewing, featured in figure 1 below.

How does it work?

Editors from each of the participating journals nominated their 25 best reviewers. Those reviewers then received a personalized HTML email containing a link to a high-resolution PDF file of their certificate, suitable for printing. Each certificate was created using a unique PDF generation tool developed by Elsevier WebShop for the Top25 Hottest Articles and Certificate of Publication.

The response from reviewers was immediate and encouraging. One of the participating editors, Dr Sandra Shumway, co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology (JEMBE) admitted:I didn’t expect it to do anything. But I had a couple of people write back and say thank you.”


Figure 1. Example of a Certificate of Excellence in Reviewing, presented to a journal’s ‘top’ reviewers.

Sandra Shumway

Comments from the reviewers who contacted Shumway included, “thank you….a really nice surprise!” and “just returned from a trip and was cleaning up email when I came across the Excellence in Reviewing Certificate.  Nice to be appreciated.  Many thanks!”. Shumway added: “People need to publish and people need to review. My list included those who I knew had really come through for me; those who responded when I needed them for reviews. I believe the newer and younger reviewers will be attracted by this recognition.”

Debra Bick

The journal Midwifery also participated in the project and Editor-in-Chief, Professor Debra Bick, is keen to continue using the certificate. She said: “This initiative worked very well with our reviewers, many of whom contacted myself or Sarah (Sarah Davies, her Elsevier Publisher) to say how pleased they were to be identified in this way.  We would certainly do it again, as the journal feedback is also an excellent way for our reviewers to reflect in their CVs how they are contributing to research and scholarship.”

Across the board, the response to this initiative was positive, both in quantitative and qualitative feedback. Data shows that more than 65% of the email recipients went on to download their certificate.

Next steps

Based on these early results, we plan to turn the study into an annual initiative available to every journal, beginning in 2014. The input required by editors will be minimal. As the time approaches for the certificates to be distributed, we will approach you to ask for your list of ‘exceptional’ reviewers – those who have really excelled that year. The rest of the process will be administered by your journal’s Marketing Manager. While we recommend that you choose 25 reviewers, that number will remain flexible. Shumway said: “I found it hard to create a shortlist of 25 reviewers, but this number seems suitable. When it’s ready to go again, I’ll be ready with my list.”

Philippe Terheggen

Philippe Terheggen, Executive Vice President of Science, Technology and Medicine Journals, has been a strong supporter of the project within Elsevier. He explained: “I’m delighted that this new initiative has landed so well with both our reviewers and the editors that participated. It shows how small steps to provide formal recognition provide a valuable tool for retaining these sought-after people. Perhaps there are some framed Certificates of Excellence in Reviewing hanging on a few walls around the world right now.”

No reviewer left behind

Elsevier understands that even one review is a great contribution. To this end, there is also an annual ‘Thank you Reviewers!’ initiative. Run at the beginning of each year for all participating journals, a special announcement is placed on the journal homepages, together with full page print adverts in the journals, thanking the reviewers for their valued contributions. In addition, the initiative links to the reviewer benefits page on which reminds them we provide free Scopus and ScienceDirect access and outlines the other benefits Elsevier offers.

These programs are just two of the initiatives we are exploring to help editors find or retain reviewers. Find out more about some of these in Exploring Improvements to the Peer-Review System featured in issue 36 of Editors’ Update.

Hot off the press!

As of this week, Elsevier reviewers can feature the journal for which they review in their e-mail signature or on their personal webpage using a new badge we have created. The journal-specific badge can be claimed within seconds via an online tool at

Figure 2. Example of a reviewer badge

What do you think about these initiatives? Do you have suggestions for your colleagues on how to attract and retain reviewers? Please take a few moments to post a comment below.

Author biography

Ursula van Dijk

Ursula van Dijk
Ursula has more than 20 years of experience in Science, Technology and Medicine journal marketing.  She is based in Amsterdam and leads a team of marketers within the Physical, Formal and Applied Sciences area with a focus on supporting publishing initiatives by communicating and interacting with our editors, authors and reviewers.