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Reviewer Guidelines

Important information about reviewing for PLOS Biology
 

PLOS Biology is transitioning to a new submission system, Aperta™. If you are invited to review a manuscript in Aperta, you will need to have an account in the new system. Sign up now.

The green boxes on this page highlight key points about how the review process works in Aperta. For more information about using the new system, read the user guide for reviewers.

Reviewing for Us

Accepting or declining invitations

Reviewer invitations are sent by email from the submission system. Use the links in the email to accept or decline.

Reviewer invitations in Aperta
 

If you are asked to review a manuscript in Aperta, you will receive an invitation by email. Click the links in the email to view the assignment, and respond to the invitation. If you do not already have an Aperta account, you will be prompted to create one.

If you accept the invitation, a Review card will be added to the submission for you to complete. Read more about accepting and declining manuscripts in Aperta.

Submitting the review

Reviews must be entered in the submission system. Email the journal office if you are having trouble accessing the manuscript or entering your comments.

Competing interests

You should not accept a review assignment if you have a potential competing interest, including the following:

  • Prior or current collaborations with the author(s)
  • You are a direct competitor
  • You may have a known history of antipathy with the author(s)
  • You might profit financially from the work

Please inform the editors or journal staff and recuse yourself if you feel that you are unable to offer an impartial review.

When submitting your review, you must indicate whether or not you have any competing interests. 

Timing

If you are reviewing a manuscript, please aim to complete your review within 10 days. If you need more time or are unable to perform the review, please notify us immediately so that we can keep the authors informed and assign alternate reviewers if necessary.

What to Assess

Manuscripts must meet the criteria for publication described below. Please note that both Research Articles and Meta-Research Articles are held to the same standards of conceptual advance and methodological rigor. Manuscripts must also comply with our editorial and publishing policies.

For further information regarding the scope of  PLOS Biology’s Meta-Research article type, see the following Editorial: Kousta S, Ferguson C, Ganley E (2016) Meta-Research: Broadening the Scope of PLOS Biology. PLoS Biol 14(1): e1002334.  doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002334

Confidentiality

Reviewers are required to treat all submitted manuscripts in strict confidence and should not share information about submissions with any other parties unless previously agreed with the editor. The involvement of a third party in the review must be declared at the time of the submission of the review.

Correspondence as part of the review process is also to be treated confidentially by all parties.

We expect that reviewers will not make use of any material or take advantage of any information they gain through the peer review process.

Criteria for Publication

To be considered for publication in PLOS Biology, any given manuscript must be exceptional in the following ways:

  • Originality
  • Importance to researchers in its field
  • Interest to scientists outside the field
  • Rigorous methodology and substantial evidence for its conclusions

Writing the Review

The purpose of the review is to provide the Academic Editor and professional editors with an expert opinion regarding the quality of the manuscript under consideration. The review should also supply authors with explicit feedback on how to improve their papers so that they will be acceptable for publication in PLOS Biology.

Although confidential comments to the editors are respected, any remarks that might help to strengthen the paper should be directed to the authors themselves.

Completing your review in Aperta

If you are reviewing a manuscript in Aperta, note that the Review card will contain a set of structured questions for you to address. A text box is provided for you to insert additional comments for authors. Read more about submitting your review in Aperta.

The best possible review will answer the following questions:

  • What are the main claims of the paper and how significant are they?
  • Are these claims sufficiently novel? If not, please specify papers that weaken the claims to the originality of this one.
  • Are the claims properly placed in the context of the previous literature?
  • Do the data support the claims? If not, what other evidence is required?
  • Would any other experiments/data/analyses improve the paper? How much better would the paper be if these were performed, and how difficult would they be to do?
  • Is this paper outstanding in its discipline? If yes, what makes it outstanding? If not, why not?
  • Who would find this paper of interest? Why?
  • If the paper is considered unsuitable for publication in its present form, does the study itself show sufficient potential that the authors should be encouraged to resubmit a revised version?

In the case of manuscripts deemed worthy of consideration, we would appreciate additional advice from the reviewer on the following:

  • Is the manuscript clearly enough written so that it is understandable to non-specialists? If not, how could it be improved? (Please concentrate on matters of organization and content and not on grammatical or spelling errors that will be corrected by our copyeditor after acceptance.)
  • Have the authors provided adequate proof for their claims without overselling them?
  • Have the authors treated the previous literature fairly?
  • Does the paper offer enough details of its methodology that its experiments could be reproduced?
  • PLOS Biology encourages authors to publish detailed protocols as supplementary information online. Do any particular methods used in the manuscript warrant such a protocol?

Editing reviewers’ reports

The editors and PLOS staff do not edit any comments made by reviewers that have been intended to be read by the authors unless the language is deemed inappropriate for professional communication or the comments contain information considered confidential. Such remarks should be reserved for the confidential section of the review form, which is intended to be read by the editors only.

In their comments to authors, reviewers are encouraged to be honest but not offensive in their language. On the other hand, authors should not confuse frank and perhaps even robust language with unfair criticism.

Anonymity

Reviewers are anonymous by default. Reviewers’ identities are not revealed to authors or to other reviewers unless reviewers specifically request to be identified by signing their names at the end of their comments. 

The Academic Editor is also anonymous to authors and reviewers unless and until a manuscript is accepted for publication. The editor’s name is then indicated in the published article.

Editorial Process

Decision process

Manuscripts are evaluated by a professional editor working in conjunction with an Academic Editor, usually but not always from the Editorial Board. Together, the editors make a decision based on the reviewers' comments. 

Conflicting reviews

If reviewers appear to disagree fundamentally, the editors may choose to share all the reviews with each of the reviewers and by this means elicit additional comment that may help the editors to make a decision. That said, decisions are not necessarily made according to majority rule. Instead, the editors evaluate the recommendations and comments of the reviewers alongside comments by the authors and material that may not have been made available to those reviewers.

Notifying reviewers of decisions

We send reviewers’ comments along with the decision letter to all reviewers of that manuscript. If reviewers have identified themselves, this information will be passed on to other reviewers.

Reviewers who may have offered an opinion not in accordance with the final decision should not feel that their recommendation was not duly considered and their service not properly appreciated. Experts often disagree, and it is the job of the editorial team to make a decision.

Revisions and appeals

When a paper has been revised in response to the review, or when authors appeal against a decision, we often ask the reviewers to offer additional comments. We request that reviewers make themselves available to provide such follow-up advice. We are nevertheless aware that reviewers do not wish to be involved in extended discussions over papers, and our goal is to keep such consultations to a minimum while still allowing authors a fair hearing.

Reviewing revisions in Aperta
 

If you are reviewing a manuscript in Aperta and are asked to comment on a revision of a manuscript you previously reviewed, you can access your previous comments at the bottom of the Review card. Read more about reviewing revised manuscripts in Aperta.

Transferring reviews to other journals

Occasionally, editors recommend after peer review that a particular article is more suitable for another PLOS journal. If the authors choose to pursue that option, we transfer the manuscript and the reviews to the other journal. We expect that reviewers for any PLOS journal are willing to have their reviews considered by the editors of another PLOS journal.

Reviewing Magazine Submissions

To be considered for publication in the ‘magazine’ section of PLOS Biology, a manuscript must be well-written, timely or topical and present cogent arguments based on sound science. It should also be of broad interest.

The purpose of the review is to provide the Academic Editor and professional editors with an expert opinion regarding the quality of the manuscript under consideration. The review should also supply authors with explicit feedback on how to improve their article so that it will be acceptable for publication in PLOS Biology. Although confidential comments to the editors are respected, any remarks that might help to strengthen the paper should be directed to the authors themselves.

The review process for our magazine section articles is slightly less formal than peer review for research articles but we nevertheless expect the science and logic of the articles to be rigorous and precise. In addition to providing feedback on the soundness of the science and coherence of the argument presented, we would appreciate your general reaction to the article.

In particular:

  • Do you think the piece is interesting?
  • Do you feel that it deals with an important or significant issue?
  • Is the point of view well-argued and scientifically supportable?
  • Do you have any comments or suggestions to improve the piece or expand its scope or interest?
  • If the article is considered unsuitable for publication in its present form, does it show enough potential that the authors should be encouraged to resubmit a revised version?
  Reviewing magazine submissions in Aperta
 

If you are reviewing a magazine submission in Aperta, note that the Review card will contain a set of structured questions for you to address. A text box is provided in which you can insert additional comments for authors. Read more about submitting your review in Aperta.

Help

If you have questions or concerns about the manuscript you are reviewing, or if you need assistance submitting the review, please email us

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