Royal Society Open Science

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 through the Web of Science Academy or Nature Masterclasses, 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.

Royal Society Open Science will actively pursue diversity in our selection of referees as part of the efforts to tackle unconscious bias.

Journal scope and submission types

Royal Society Open Science, launched in 2014, is the newest open access journal published by the Royal Society. The journal publishes high quality original research across the entire range of science on the basis of objective peer review.

Before reviewing for Royal Society Open Science, please familiarise yourself with the scope of the journal.

Royal Society Open Science accepts a number of article types for consideration. More details of these can be found in our instructions for authors.

Criteria for publication

The criteria for selection for publication are:

  • High quality research across the whole range of the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Work that has a strong clinical focus, including but not limited to clinical psychology, will not be considered for publication, and any exceptions will be at the sole discretion of the Editor.
  • Submissions should satisfy the Editor that they sufficiently advance scientific knowledge. Negative findings, meta-analyses and studies testing the reproducibility of significant work are encouraged. Experiments with little or no new content will only be considered if they provide a meaningful contribution to the literature, for instance by contributing to reproducibility studies.
  • Results reported have not been published elsewhere (with the exception of pre-print servers).
  • Conclusions are supported by the data.
  • Datasets, code, and other digital materials should be deposited in an appropriate, recognised, publicly available repository. Where no data-specific repository exists, authors should deposit their datasets in a general repository such as Dryad or Figshare (either directly to Figshare, or via the electronic supplementary materials the authors provide).
  • Conforming to recognised standards of scientific procedure in terms of methodology and ethical standards (see our policy page).
  • Experimental protocols/procedure and statistical analysis performed to a high technical standard which are both methodologically and scientifically sound. Work must be high quality in terms of exhaustively analysing all the relevant scientific/methodological issues.
  • Manuscripts submitted must satisfy our TOP guideline standards.

Transparent peer review

Royal Society Open Science 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 Web of Science Transparent Peer Review Service. By reviewing for this journal, you agree that your finished report will appear alongside the article (along with the author’s responses and the editor’s decision letter), should the article be accepted. Referee reports will be made public under an open access licence (CC-BY).

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 feedback for both the Editors and authors, in order to help guide the Editor in their final decision and advise the authors on how to improve their article. The referees’ reports should constitute as recommendations for the Subject Editors who are ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting submissions.

Referees are asked to consider the criteria listed above when assessing a manuscript.

Most journals base their peer review on two separate processes. The first stage is objective and assesses the rigour of the methodology and statistics, and the validity of the conclusions. The second stage is subjective and attempts to estimate the likely impact or importance of the work. Royal Society Open Science operates using the first stage only – objective peer review. As long as a submitted article fulfils the selection criteria listed above, the judgement as to its importance and impact will be left to the individual reader, the scientific community and, in the longer term, posterity.

Manuscripts that are not technically sound or 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 standard required to make the paper acceptable for publication, or recommend rejection if it is unlikely the authors will be able to improve the quality of the paper.

In particular, 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. Referees may request that the article be sent to a specialist statistical reviewer, and we welcome recommendations from referees of appropriate experts.
  • Whether the research methods are appropriate, and evidence is provided for the conclusions drawn.
  • Writing style and accessibility for a wide audience.
  • Use of suitable illustrations, tables and supplementary material to illustrate results.
  • Appropriate length – whilst Royal Society Open Science operates without page limits, we encourage authors to be concise. Each article should be of the shortest length required to contain all useful and relevant information, and no longer.
  • 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 digital 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 statement of best practice can be found here. Data should be available to referees and Editors at the point of submission. 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.
  • Please alert the Editorial Office if you suspect inappropriate use of AI, for example unusual wording or incorrect references. Our AI policy can be found here.
  • 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
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 procedures

Journal procedure
Following an initial sense check by the editorial office, all articles submitted to Royal Society Open Science are sent to the appropriate Subject Editor, who in turn assigns the paper to an Associate Editor. The Associate Editor makes an assessment of the manuscript’s suitability for further consideration, which is sent to the Subject Editor - this assessment is made on the scientific quality of the paper. In the event that the Editors do not consider the paper to be sound science, the manuscript will be rejected from consideration by the journal.

Manuscripts that are recommended for peer review are usually sent to two or more independent referees, who will be asked to assess the quality of the paper on the basis of the criteria listed above. Authors are welcome to suggest suitable referees, which the Editor may consider approaching.

The peer reviewers are asked to make decision recommendations and supply reports to expand on the reasons for the recommendation. The full reports will be returned to the handling Associate Editor to assess. The Associate Editor will make a recommendation of how to proceed to the Subject Editor on the basis of the peer review reports and their own assessment of the paper.

Your full review (including your name) will be seen by the handling Associate Editor and Subject Editor for the paper, as well as 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, accept with minor revisions, major revisions or rejection. Acceptance should be selected for a paper that can be accepted and published as is, with no further edits necessary. Acceptance pending minor revisions should be selected for papers which are essentially ready for publication but may need some minor changes (reviewers would not need to be asked to re-review). Major revisions indicate that a paper may be sufficiently interesting and is scientifically sound but does require further work before it may be acceptable for publication. When the revised version is submitted following major revisions reviewers are usually asked to re-review the revised manuscript. Rejection should be used 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 Royal Society Open Science 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 you require an extension, please contact the Editorial Office.

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 the authors from each referee will be included in this notification.

Revisions and resubmissions
For most revised or resubmitted articles, one or more of the original referees will be asked to review it and comment on the authors' replies to their criticisms of the original version. As refereeing the revision or resubmission will generally be a less time-intensive process than refereeing original submissions, the Editors strongly encourage referees to agree to review revisions or resubmissions. In the unlikely event that referees are unable to referee revisions or resubmissions, they will be asked to supply suggestions of colleagues working in the field the journal may approach in their absence.

Please note that it is the editorial policy of Royal Society Open Science 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, the paper may 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 resubmit a revised version – this will be at the Editor’s discretion.

Adjudication
In cases of a substantial disparity between referee reports, an adjudicator may be sought. Adjudicators are sent the referee reports anonymously as well as the full paper, and asked to advise the Editor on how to proceed. 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.

Transfers
Papers rejected from the following Royal Society journals may be transferred to Royal Society Open Science:

Any associated peer review reports of papers transferred to Royal Society Open Science will be made available to the Editorial team and academic Editors of the journal, and used as part of their assessment of the paper. The transferred peer review reports may be made anonymously available to other referees, if requested by the Editor. No transferred peer review comments will be made publicly available.

Collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry
Royal Society Open Science is published in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry. As part of this collaboration, the Royal Society of Chemistry manages the editorial aspects up to acceptance, including editorial content development and peer-review, for articles published in the chemistry section of Royal Society Open Science Please see our Chemistry Editorial Board page for more details of the collaboration.

Reviewer recognition

The Royal Society has partnered with Web of Science Reviewer Recognition Service (previously branded as Publons) to give reviewers formal recognition for their work. Over tens of thousands of experts already use this service to track, verify and showcase their peer review and editorial contributions across the world’s journals, without compromising reviewer anonymity, making it simple to include verified evidence of your peer review and editorial activity in funding, promotion and visa applications. Simply opt-in to the Reviewer Recognition Service when prompted when reporting via ScholarOne.

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.

Refereeing policy

Publishing ethics and standards of behaviour
The Publishing Ethics policy describes the Royal Society's position on the major ethical principles of scientific 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. Reviewers should be objective and constructive in their reviews, focusing on the content of the work and refraining from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libellous or derogatory personal comments.

Anonymity
It is the policy of the Society that the names of referees are kept confidential, unless otherwise requested by referees in their report. Royal Society Open Science encourages referees to waive this anonymity to support open and transparent decision-making.

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. Inputting article details into generative AI tools is prohibited. AI tools provide no guarantee of where data are being sent, saved, viewed, or used in the future.

Your review (in whole or in part) will be seen by the paper’s author(s), members of the Editorial Board and editorial office staff, and the other referees. The journal also reserves the right to send your comments, in confidence, to other experts in the case of further advice being required.

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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