How to find reviewers
Similar to being a member of a journal’s editorial board, being a reviewer is considered to be a prestigious position and can therefore attract unsolicited requests. Ideally, you should source your own and have a pool of referees in a database with details of their specialist areas as well as some notes (e.g. number of times they have peer reviewed articles, quality and timekeeping).
Sourcing referees is one of the most difficult tasks as an editor. Sometimes you can use editorial board members, but they might not be the most suitable and there is arguably a perceived conflict of interest in having them review for the journal they are on the editorial board for.
To find potential peer reviewers you can check the reference list of the manuscript, which is always a good starting point. You can also run searches in SpringerLink to identify who is publishing regularly and recently in that field. On Web of Science, you can rank authors by number of publications in a particular subject, so you can determine who the most prominent researchers are.
It is also equally important to try and obtain a global perspective on a paper, so when narrowing down your list of potential peer reviewers try not to have them all from the same country; the same principle that applies to forming an editorial board. This is particularly important for medical journals as burden of disease and treatment patterns vary from country to country so it often adds value having an article reviewed by international peers.
Once you have found potential referees, it is important to check for any potential conflicts of interest, which include having published with the author recently, working with the author, or being sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that is developing a competitor drug. For rare and new areas this can sometimes be problematic because it may just be one research group who is working on that particular area. However, you can try and delegate to the editorial board for suggestions if there is any potential difficulty; double-blind refereeing, where an author’s identity and that of the referee is concealed, can work well in these circumstances to avoid any potential bias. Some journals ask authors to provide a list of potential peer reviewers; however they must not be from the same institution/research group as the author and they must not have published together—this must be made clear in the instructions to authors information. Again when considering potential referees that have been suggested by an author you should always run a check on PubMed or SpringerLink to attempt to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest.
Finally, once you have the names of your potential reviewers you need to find their contact details. Most of the time, if they have published recently, their latest article might have an email address or contact telephone number in the correspondence section. However, most of the time you will need to be quite proactive at using internet searches to obtain up-to-date contact details.