Peer Review Process

General information

The following types of contribution to Sift Desk journals are peer-reviewed: Articles, Letters, Brief Communications, Communications Arising, Technical Reports, Analysis, Resources, Reviews, Perspectives, Progress articles and Insight articles. Correspondence and all forms of published correction may also be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors.

Other contributed articles are not usually peer-reviewed. Nevertheless, articles published in these sections, particularly if they present technical information, may be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors.

For any general questions and comments about the peer-review process, the journal or its editorial policies that are not addressed here, we encourage reviewers to contact us using the feedback links in the box at the top right of each page in the authors & referees' website.

Questions about a specific manuscript should be directed to the editor who is handling the manuscript.

 

Online manuscript review

We ask peer-reviewers to submit their reports via our secure online system by following the link provided in the editor's email. There is an online help guide to assist in using this system, and a helpdesk email account for any technical problems.

 

Criteria for publication

Sift Desk journals receive many more submissions than they can publish. Therefore, we ask peer-reviewers to keep in mind that every paper that is accepted means that another good paper must be rejected. To be published in a Sift Desk Journal, a paper should meet four general criteria:

  • Provides strong evidence for its conclusions.
  • Novel (we do not consider meeting report abstracts and preprints on community servers to compromise novelty).
  • Of extreme importance to scientists in the specific field.
  • Ideally, interesting to researchers in other related disciplines.

In general, to be acceptable, a paper should represent an advance in understanding likely to influence thinking in the field. There should be a discernible reason why the work deserves the visibility of publication in a Sift Desk Journal rather than the best of the specialist journals.

 

The review process

All submitted manuscripts are read by the editorial staff. To save time for authors and peer-reviewers, only those papers that seem most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent for formal review. Those papers judged by the editors to be of insufficient general interest or otherwise inappropriate are rejected promptly without external review (although these decisions may be based on informal advice from specialists in the field).

Manuscripts judged to be of potential interest to our readership are sent for formal review, typically to two or three reviewers, but sometimes more if special advice is needed (for example on statistics or a particular technique). The editors then make a decision based on the reviewers' advice, from among several possibilities:

  • Accept, with or without editorial revisions
  • Invite the authors to revise their manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached
  • Reject, but indicate to the authors that further work might justify a resubmission
  • Reject outright, typically on grounds of specialist interest, lack of novelty, insufficient conceptual advance or major technical and/or interpretational problems

Reviewers are welcome to recommend a particular course of action, but they should bear in mind that the other reviewers of a particular paper may have different technical expertise and/or views, and the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. The most useful reports, therefore, provide the editors with the information on which a decision should be based. Setting out the arguments for and against publication is often more helpful to the editors than a direct recommendation one way or the other.

Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, and we do not always follow the majority recommendation. We try to evaluate the strength of the arguments raised by each reviewer and by the authors, and we may also consider other information not available to either party. Our primary responsibilities are to our readers and to the scientific community at large, and in deciding how best to serve them, we must weigh the claims of each paper against the many others also under consideration.

We may return to reviewers for further advice, particularly in cases where they disagree with each other, or where the authors believe they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that reviewers should be willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are very aware, however, that reviewers are usually reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to provide a fair hearing for the authors.

When reviewers agree to assess a paper, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions. However, editors will not send a resubmitted paper back to the reviewers if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the criticisms.

We take reviewers' criticisms seriously; in particular, we are very reluctant to disregard technical criticisms. In cases where one reviewer alone opposes publication, we may consult the other reviewers as to whether s/he is applying an unduly critical standard. We occasionally bring in additional reviewers to resolve disputes, but we prefer to avoid doing so unless there is a specific issue, for example a specialist technical point, on which we feel a need for further advice.

 

Selecting peer-reviewers

Reviewer selection is critical to the publication process, and we base our choice on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations and our own previous experience of a reviewer's characteristics. For instance, we select referees who are quick, careful and provide reasoning for their views, whether robustly critical or forgiving.

We check with potential reviewers before sending them manuscripts to review. Reviewers should bear in mind that these messages contain confidential information, which should be treated as such.

 

Access to the literature

If a reviewer does not have access to any published paper that is necessary for evaluation of a submitted manuscript, the journal will supply the reviewer with a copy. Under these circumstances, the reviewer should send the publication reference of the paper required to the editor who sent them the paper to review. The editor will obtain the paper, paying any necessary fees, and send it to the reviewer.

 

Writing the review

The primary purpose of the review is to provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision but the review should also instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their paper to the point where it may be acceptable. As far as possible, a negative review should explain to the authors the major weaknesses of their manuscript, so that rejected authors can understand the basis for the decision and see in broad terms what needs to be done to improve the manuscript for publication elsewhere. Referees should be aware that when declined manuscripts are transferred to another journal in the Sift Desk Research portfolio the referee comments are also transferred, and can be used to determine suitability of publication at the receiving journal. In the case of manuscript transfers between Sift Desk journals with in-house editors, referee identities are also transferred.

Confidential comments to the editor are welcome, but they should not contradict the main points as stated in the comments for transmission to the authors.

We ask reviewers the following questions, to provide an assessment of the various aspects of a manuscript:

  • Key results: Please summarise what you consider to be the outstanding features of the work.
  • Validity: Does the manuscript have flaws which should prohibit its publication? If so, please provide details.
  • Originality and significance: If the conclusions are not original, please provide relevant references. On a more subjective note, do you feel that the results presented are of immediate interest to many people in your own discipline, and/or to people from several disciplines?
  • Data & methodology: Please comment on the validity of the approach, quality of the data and quality of presentation. Please note that we expect our reviewers to review all data, including any extended data and supplementary information. Is the reporting of data and methodology sufficiently detailed and transparent to enable reproducing the results?
  • Appropriate use of statistics and treatment of uncertainties: All error bars should be defined in the corresponding figure legends; please comment if that’s not the case. Please include in your report a specific comment on the appropriateness of any statistical tests, and the accuracy of the description of any error bars and probability values.
  • Conclusions: Do you find that the conclusions and data interpretation are robust, valid and reliable?
  • Suggested improvements: Please list additional experiments or data that could help strengthening the work in a revision.
  • References: Does this manuscript reference previous literature appropriately? If not, what references should be included or excluded?
  • Clarity and context: Is the abstract clear, accessible? Are abstract, introduction and conclusions appropriate?
  • Please indicate any particular part of the manuscript, data, or analyses that you feel is outside the scope of your expertise, or that you were unable to assess fully.
  • Please address any other specific question asked by the editor via email.

Reports do not necessarily need to follow this specific order but should document the referees’ thought process. All statements should be justified and argued in detail, naming facts and citing supporting references, commenting on all aspects that are relevant to the manuscript and that the referees feel qualified commenting on. Not all of the above aspects will necessarily apply to every paper, due to discipline-specific standards. When in doubt about discipline-specific refereeing standards, reviewer can contact the editor for guidance.

It is our policy to remain neutral with respect to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations, and the naming conventions used in maps and affiliation are left to the discretion of authors. Referees should not, therefore, request authors to make any changes to such unless it is critical to the clarity of the scientific content of a manuscript.