Open Biology

Information for reviewers

Reviewing for the Royal Society

Reviewers play a critical role in ensuring the quality and integrity of published research. By reviewing for a Royal Society journal you are actively participating in the research community. Our aim is to make reviewing as rewarding as possible for you. Find out more about reviewing for the Royal Society.

Support for new reviewers

The Royal Society encourages early-career researchers to get involved in the peer review process. If you require any assistance with your review, please feel free to contact the Editorial Office of the journal. We encourage co-reviewing (see below), so you are welcome to collaborate with a colleague. We would recommend that new reviewers take advantage of training materials such as the Publons Academy, and would recommend that you read our blogs ‘Tips for good practice in peer review’ and ‘What makes a good or a bad peer review?’.

Unconscious bias

It is known that there is potential for bias within the peer review process, and we need to work to avoid this wherever possible. We are committed to making stakeholders (such as editors and reviewers) aware of and responsive to the challenges posed by unconscious bias. The Royal Society has published a blog post, a guidance PDF, and short video animation to support users in understanding and tackling unconscious bias. Our referees are strongly encouraged to familiarise themselves with these publications when reviewing for the journal.

Please be aware of unconscious bias, whether that's when you are deciding whether or not to review a paper, or when you are assessing the work and writing your report. Think carefully about whether your impressions of the work are influenced in any way by the author's age, gender, institutional affiliation, or nationality - or indeed anything other than information that pertains to the quality and rigour of the research. Basing your review on evidence from the paper is crucial in avoiding bias. Please do not agree to review an article if you have a conflict of interest or feel unable to give an unbiased review for any reason.

Journal scope and submission types

Open Biology publishes high impact research in cell biology, developmental and structural biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, immunology, microbiology and genetics.

Open Biology accepts the following article types: research articles, reviews, perspectives, commentaries, and comments and invited replies. The structure of these articles can be found on our information for authors page.

Before reviewing for Open Biology, please familiarise yourself with the full scope of the journal.

Criteria for publication

The criteria for selection for publication in Open Biology are:

  • Outstanding scientific excellence and importance that furthers the field, and improves or changes our understanding of it.
  • Originality: research articles should report novel work that has not been published elsewhere. Manuscripts that lack novelty or only present an incremental advance over previous work are not acceptable. Review articles should cover the latest developments in a specific area of research, place it in a wider context and provide original insights into the topic.
  • Potential interest for a wide spectrum of readers; findings should be put into a wide context and be understandable by readers who may not be familiar with the subject area.
  • Conforming to recognised standards of scientific procedure in terms of methodology and ethics (see our policy page).

Open peer review

Open Biology operates open peer review on all manuscripts. At all points in the peer review process we encourage referees to waive their traditional right to anonymity and sign their reports, thereby disclosing their name to the author. However, this will remain voluntary and anonymity will be strictly maintained if requested. To increase the transparency of the peer review process, we are participating in Publons Transparent Peer Review. By reviewing for this journal, you agree that your finished report will be linked from the published article to where they appear on Publons (along with the author’s responses and the editor’s decision letter), should the article be accepted. Referee reports are made public under the CC-BY open access licence. In case you have any concerns about participating in the Peer Review Transparency pilot, please reach out to the journal’s Editorial Office.

Please note that it is not permitted to publish reviewer reports, decision letters and author responses for rejected papers.

Reviewing instructions

Reviewers are asked to assess the paper and provide guidance to help Editors to make a decision on publication, and constructive feedback to authors on how to improve their article. The referees’ reports constitute recommendations to the Editor of the journal who is ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting submissions.

Referees are asked to consider the criteria listed above. Manuscripts that are technically sound but that don’t meet the above criteria will generally not be suitable for publication. In these cases your report should provide details of any revisions the authors can make to bring their manuscript up to the required standard or recommend rejection.

Attention should be paid to:

  • Scientific accuracy, including statistical analysis. Referees may suggest that the article be sent to a specialist statistical reviewer. We provide some guidance on good statistical practice.
  • Whether the research methods are appropriate, and evidence is provided for the conclusions drawn.
  • Writing style and appropriateness for a wide audience.
  • Use of suitable illustrations, tables and supplementary material to illustrate results.
  • Appropriate length - although the journal has no fixed length limits, each article should be of the shortest length required to contain all useful and relevant information.
  • References — these should be appropriate, relevant, and devoid of unnecessary self-citations.
  • Ethics — any ethical concerns should be included in the referee's report. For example, concerns regarding animal experimentation, human studies or conservation issues.
  • Data sharing — it is the policy of the journal that authors make any data, code and research materials supporting the results in the article publically available on publication, either in a repository or as supplementary material, and appropriately cite this in the reference list. A ‘Data Accessibility’ section should be provided where applicable, to make clear where these data can be found. You will be asked to confirm that this is available and that suitable content has been provided. Please contact the Editorial Office if you feel that the information provided is insufficient for you to assess, and please include details of anything that you feel is missing in your comments to the authors.
  • Transparency of information — papers must include appropriate statements on: authors’ contributions, competing interests, ethics (where relevant), data accessibility and funding. Please note in your comments if you feel that anything is missing or concerns you.
  • Electronic supplementary material — supplementary material should be reviewed in addition to the main text. Please note that the main article as published should stand on its own merit.

Misconduct
All manuscripts submitted to Open Biology will go through a plagiarism and image screening check prior to publication in accordance with our Publishing ethics and policies. We use Crossref Similarity Check to detect for textual similarity with other publications, including instances of self-plagiarism. If you have any suspicion of misconduct please alert the Editorial Office as soon as possible. This can include fabrication of results, plagiarism, duplicate publication, incorrect authorship or any other area of concern.

Submission of referee reports
The report form asks a series of multiple choice questions and has space for comments to the authors as well as for additional confidential comments to the Editors. All reviews should include detailed comments for the authors, particularly when rejection or major revision is recommended. We require referees to submit the report via the online reviewer form – we are unfortunately unable to accept email submissions of your report.

Co-reviewing

We are happy to support co-reviewing, when used appropriately. The senior reviewer is limited to one appropriately qualified co-reviewer per review, and you will be required to disclose the name of your co-reviewer on submission of your review. For more details, please read our full policy. Please also note the confidentiality policy below.

Refereeing procedure

Journal procedure
All articles are sent to an Editorial Board Member for an initial assessment of their suitability, and may be rejected at this stage without in-depth peer review if the Board Member decides that it is unlikely that the paper will be accepted. Contributions submitted to Royal Society journals that are selected for peer review are usually sent to two or more, independent referees. Authors are welcome to suggest suitable referees, which the Society may consider.

Your review (including your name) will be seen by the Handling Editor for the paper and the Editorial Office staff. In cases of conflict or concern, reviews may also be shared with the journal’s Editor-in-Chief or another relevant member of the Editorial Board.

Decision options
Reviewers are asked to recommend either acceptance, revision or rejection. Acceptance should be selected for a paper that is basically ready for publication but may need some minor changes. Major revision indicates that a paper does not have major problems, and should be acceptable with some further work. Rejection should be reserved for papers that have major problems with experimental design, interpretation or novelty, or if you have identified misconduct or ethical issues. The comments to authors section of your review should be as thorough and constructive as possible.

Speed of refereeing
The Society endeavours to keep time from submission to publication as short as possible. Therefore, we ask referees for Open Biology to report back within 14 days of receiving the manuscript. In certain instances, an extension to this time may be granted by the Editorial Office, but should be agreed in advance.

If referees are unable to report, it is requested that the Editorial Office is informed as soon as possible so that the assessment process is not delayed. Where referees find they are unable to review the assigned manuscript, the Editor welcomes suggestions of alternative referees competent to review it. These suggestions should be passed to the Editorial Office.

Notification of decision
We provide notification of the Editor’s decision on a manuscript to all referees of that version of the manuscript. The comments to authors from each referee will be included in this notification.

Revisions and resubmissions
Please note that it is the editorial policy of Open Biology to offer authors one round of revision in which to address changes requested by referees. If the revisions are not considered satisfactory by the Editor, then the paper will be rejected, and not considered further for publication by the journal. In the event that the author chooses not to address a referee’s comments, and no scientific justification is included in their cover letter for this omission, it is at the discretion of the Editor whether to continue considering the manuscript. For some rejected manuscripts, the authors will be permitted to submit a revised version.

For most revised or resubmitted articles, one or more of the original referees will be asked to review it and comment on authors' replies to their criticisms of the original version.

Adjudication
In cases of a substantial disparity between referee reports, an adjudicator may be sought. Adjudicators are sent the referee reports and the full paper and asked to advise the Editor. Editorial Board members are often invited to be Adjudicators.

Appeals
Authors have the right to appeal a rejection decision. In this circumstance, referees may be asked by the Editor to comment on issues raised by the authors. Appeals will only be considered if there has been a fundamental and clear misunderstanding of the research presented in the manuscript.

The outcome of an appeal is final and at the Editor’s discretion. Appeals will have one of three outcomes:

  • The appeal is unsuccessful, and the rejection decision is not overturned
  • The appeal is a success, and a resubmission is invited
  • The appeal is a success, and the paper published ‘as is’.

In the event that the appeal is unsuccessful, the journal considers the matter closed, and will not conduct further correspondence regarding that appeal or rejected manuscript.

Transfers
Papers rejected from Open Biology may be transferred to another Royal Society journal. In this circumstance your review will also be made available to the Editorial team on the other journal and used as part of their assessment of the paper – this may include your anonymous report being made available to other referees, if sought by the Editor. If you would not be happy for this to happen automatically, please let the Editorial Office know when you submit your review. This will not prohibit you from reviewing for the journal.

Reviewer recognition

Open Biology has partnered with Publons to give reviewers formal recognition for their work. Over tens of thousands of experts already use Publons to effortlessly track, verify and showcase their peer review and editorial contributions across the world’s journals, without compromising reviewer anonymity. Publons makes it simple to include verified evidence of your peer review and editorial activity in funding, promotion and visa applications.

Our partnership with Publons allows reviewers to easily track and verify every review by electing to add the review to their Publons profile when completing the review submission form. You can also add reviews you have done for other journals by forwarding your review receipts (i.e. "thank you for reviewing" emails from journals) to reviews@publons.com.

The Editors are grateful for the support provided to the journal by the many referees who volunteer their time and expertise to review submitted manuscripts. Lists of referees who have provided reports in the previous year are published on an annual basis, and all referees are encouraged to opt-in to having their name included in this list. Referees may like to view an example of this list.

We would recommend that you register for an ORCID. This unique ID number allows you to easily attribute all of your published papers, grants and referee reports to yourself. Please add your ORCID to your user account in our ScholarOne system when you complete your review, and link your review to your ORCID account via Publons.

Reviewing policy

The Publishing Ethics policy describes the Royal Society's position on the major ethical principles of academic publishing. Authors, editors and referees are asked to comply with this policy. In addition, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) have published ethical guidelines for peer reviewers that provide basic guidance on the principles and standards that peer reviewers are expected to adhere to.

Anonymity
It is the policy of the Society that the names of referees are kept confidential, unless otherwise requested by referees in their report.

Confidentiality
When agreeing to referee an article, all referees undertake to keep the article confidential, and not to redistribute it without permission from the Society and the authors. If referees wish to invite a colleague to help with the review, or if the advice of colleagues is sought, referees must ensure that confidentiality is maintained. The names of anyone involved with the review besides the invited reviewer should be included in the report.

Conflicts of interest
Where referees have a conflict of interest (e.g. competing commercial interest or a personal association that could bias judgement) this should be declared upon invitation to referee.

Data protection
In accordance with the EU Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Royal Society is committed to your privacy and to the protection of your personal information. Referee details are entered on our editorial database to ensure that we can process articles efficiently. Your details are used for that purpose and in the administration of that purpose. We will not pass your information on to third parties other than our contractors, suppliers or agents who we use to provide services that you have requested or who help us provide those services. For further clarity around our use of data, retention policies and your rights as the data subject, view our privacy policy.

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