Guidelines for authors

Note: a version-controlled version of these guidelines is maintained at https://github.com/review-commons

Table of Contents

Initial submission

There are 2 routes to submit a research manuscript to Review Commons:

  1. The recommended route is first to post the manuscript as a preprint on bioRxiv. The preprint can then be easily transferred directly from the bioRxiv submission system to Review Commons.
  2. It is also possible to submit the manuscript directly to Review Commons. Note that this route still allows subsequently to post the manuscript to bioRxiv.

Submitting a preprint or a manuscript for peer-review by Review Commons implies that it reports unpublished work and that neither it, nor parts of it, have been published or are under consideration for publication in a journal.

There is no need to comply with a particular journal format to submit to Review Commons.

Scope and editorial assessment

An initial editorial assessment will be carried out by the Managing Editor in consultation with the Advisory Board to select manuscripts that will be peer reviewed and meet the platform’s standards, which are independent of those used by downstream journals.

The scope covered by Review Commons includes the following areas:

  • Biotechnology, synthetic biology and methods
  • Cell biology
  • Development
  • Computational biology and bioinformatics
  • Systems biology and systems medicine
  • Genes, genomes, epigenetics, RNA and chromatin
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular medicine and disease
  • Molecular physiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Plant biology
  • Protein structure and function
  • Biophysics & biochemistry
  • Evolution & Ecology

The initial assessment will be based on the following criteria:

  • Only research papers are considered (no reviews/commentaries/editorials).
  • Manuscripts must have fully-described materials & methods, fully described data figures, comprehensive references and rigorous introduction, results, and conclusions.
  • The topic falls within the scope of Review Commons (see above)
  • The findings represent a significant advance in any one of the above fields, including reports of new findings, methodological developments and resources.
  • Confirmatory, ‘null’ or refuting results will be considered if they provide significant value to the field.

Review Commons reserves the right to reject manuscripts at any point if ethical, biosecurity or scientific integrity issues arise. In serious cases, Review Commons may post a note of editorial concern next to the public reviews.

The peer-review process

  1. For manuscripts that are suitable for peer review (see criteria above), the Managing Editor assigns a Reviewing Scientific Editor from the EMBO Press team based on topic and expertise. The Reviewing Editor is in charge of inviting reviewers and evaluating the quality of the reports.
  2. Referee selection is based on a balance of factors, including expertise, scientific reputation, and our previous experience with the referee. We will strive for a balance of seniority, gender and geographical location. Where authors have asked us to exclude specific referees, we comply with their request. Referee recommendations may be made, but are not essential and will be taken into account at the editor’s discretion.
  3. Referee reports will remain anonymous unless the referees sign the reports, which they are welcome to do. Referee reports will be posted alongside the published article and/or preprint (‘Transparent Peer Review’).
  4. Before the referee reports are sent to authors, they will be circulated in anonymized form to all referees such that referees can cross-comment on each other’s analysis. The resulting comments, if any, will be included in the reports forwarded to the authors and to the selected target journal. Review Commons does not allow ‘confidential comments to the editor’.
  5. The Managing Editor will forward the full set of reports to the authors. The Managing Editor has the right to exclude reviews that are deemed unprofessional in tone or content.

Posting the referee reports and authors’ response on bioRxiv

Once the full set of reviews is available, authors have the option to trigger the transfer of the reviews to bioRxiv to make them publicly visible. Authors may also simultaneously post their response to the reviewers, which will appear alongside the reviews. If the authors choose this option and confirm the DOI of their preprint, the reviews and their response will be visible alongside the preprint of the manuscript. Note that the reviews are posted by Review Commons on behalf of the authors, which guarantees that the full set of reviews is posted and that their content cannot be altered.

Submitting an initial response to the reviewers

Upon receipt of the full set of reviews, authors will have a recommended four weeks to upload a response to the reviewers and, optionally, an initial revision of the manuscript (with all changes tracked and made visible) to Review Commons.

The recommended duration for an initial revision is short. It is intended to provide authors with the possibility to address textual or presentation issues and to provide an initial response to reviewers and tentative revision plan. It is, however, also possible for authors to request an extension of this deadline if they would prefer embarking upfront on more extensive revisions.

The response letter allows authors to to explain their view of the paper and the referees’ comments and delineate a revision plan. This will be useful to readers of the preprint to obtain a balanced opinion on the paper. It will also be important information for editors of affiliate journals when making a decision on what extent of revision might be realistic to request for publication. Review Commons editors will not comment or advise on which revision would be required for publication in affiliate journals.

Submitting to an affiliate journal

Upon receipt of the reviews, authors can transfer their manuscript, the reviews and their response to one of the 17 journals affiliated with Review Commons. The transfer is triggered by authors directly from the Review Commons editorial system.

Upon transfer, the recipient journal will have 10 working days to respond with an editorial decision to authors; this may be “reject”, “accept as is/with minor changes”, or “expression interest to publish subject to revision”; the latter will typically include explicit statements on what revision, possibly including additional experiments, the journal would require for publication.

Affiliate journals have agreed not to review the manuscripts afresh with a new set of reviewers. A target journal may ask for additional expert advice to arbitrate on issues raised by the referees, obtain complementary evaluations on a domain of expertise not covered by the set of transferred reviews and the authors’ response, or on suitability for the journal.

The target journal will receive the identity of the reviewers. Affiliated journals are encouraged to only contact referees where this is required for an informed editorial process and not to request an editorial opinion on journal fit. When the journal requests specific revisions, it can decide to send the revised manuscript back to one or more of the original referees of the platform.

While a manuscript is under consideration at an affiliate journal, the journals’ editorial policies and guidelines prevail and should be followed by the authors.

Parallel transfers to multiple journals will not be possible. To avoid such dual submissions, the manuscript will remain in a ‘locked’ stage on the Review Commons system while the manuscript is under consideration at an affiliate journal. Partner journals are not informed of a manuscript’s submission history except when a manuscript is rejected after revision and has been re-reviewed by the original reviewers. In this case, any additional comments made by the reviewers will be added by Review Commons to the peer-review process file.

If the first-choice journal is not interested in the paper or if the authors decide the offer from the journal is not suitable for them, and they therefore withdraw the manuscript from the journal, or if the journal has not communicated with the platform within an agreed-upon response deadline, the authors can select another journal for transfer. Journals will not know to which other affiliates the manuscript has been submitted before. Authors are encouraged to limit their transfers to four journals.

Authors can alternatively decide to take their refereed preprint to any journal outside of the affiliate journals. In such a case, the editor of that journal can approach the platform for the referee names and referee reports.

The authors can withdraw from Review Commons (but not from bioRxiv) at any point in the process and submit directly to a journal of their choice (including any one of the affiliate journals). The partner journal will not be informed of the history of a manuscript submission at the other partner journals, so decisions are not prejudiced in any way. The only exception is that if there are ethics or research integrity concerns, a manuscript may be flagged to ensure attention is paid by partner journals to flagged issues.

The authors also can decide not to pursue a journal publication but still have their refereed preprint transferred to bioRxiv.