Note: a version-controlled version of these guidelines is maintained at https://github.com/review-commons
Table of Content
- Initial submission
- Scope and editorial assessment
- The peer-review process
- Mandatory posting of the preprint
- Scooping protection
- Posting the reviews
- Review challenge procedure
- Submitting to an affiliate journal
There are 2 routes to submit a research manuscript to Review Commons:
- The recommended route is first to post the manuscript as a preprint on bioRxiv or medRxiv. The preprint can then be easily transferred directly from the bioRxiv or medRxiv submission system to Review Commons.
- It is also possible to submit the manuscript directly to Review Commons (at http://reviewcommons.msubmit.net) and then automatically post the preprint on bioRxiv through the Review Commons system (please note that for technical reasons, this route is not available for posting to medRxiv).
Note: as of July 1, 2023, Review Commons will only peer review manuscripts for which a preprint is publicly available.
Submitting a preprint or a manuscript for peer-review by Review Commons implies that it reports unpublished work and that neither it, nor parts of it, have been published or are under consideration for publication in a journal.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
- Computational biology and bioinformatics
- Systems biology and systems medicine
- Genes, genomes, epigenetics, RNA and chromatin
- Molecular medicine and disease
- Molecular physiology
- 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)
- There is a reasonable likelihood that expert reviewers will be available to conduct a thorough review of the study.
- The study represents a sufficient advance in the field such that the resulting public reviews will be informative and helpful to other researchers.
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
- 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.
- 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 seniory, 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.
- Referee reports will remain anonymous unless the referees sign the reports. Referee reports will be posted alongside the published article and/or preprint (‘Transparent Peer Review’).
- 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’.
- 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.
Mandatory posting of the preprint
Review Commons requires all authors to post their manuscript on a preprint server at submission (see above). In exchange, all the journals affiliated with Review Commons will provide authors with scooping protection from the date of posting of the preprint.
All the journals affiliated with Review Commons apply an extended scooping protection policy, whereby manuscripts reviewed by Review Commons are protected against scooping by competing publications from the date of posting of the cognate preprint to bioRxiv/medRixv, and, provided the manuscript was submitted to the journal within 4 months of posting the preprint.
The policy guarantees that if a competing paper comes out after posting such a preprint, this will not constitute grounds for potential rejection of the submission by affiliate journals.
Note that scooping protection does NOT apply to related papers with an overlapping set of authors.
Posting the reviews
Review Commons will post the reviews and the authors’ response on bioRxiv or medRxiv when the authors transfer their manuscript to the first affiliate journal. The reviews and the authors’ response will appear alongside the peer reviewed preprint.
If authors wish to submit their manuscript to a journal outside of the consoritium of affilate journals, the manuscript should be formally withdrawn from consideration by Review Commons. Review Commons will communicate the reviews to external journals only in agreement with the reviewers.
Review challenge procedure
Review Commons editors check the content and wording of referee reports before forwarding the reviews to the authors. If authors strongly feel that serious issues remain, it is possible to formally request for a specific report to be withdrawn or amended before before making the reviews public and transferring the manuscript to an affiliate journal. Such requests should be addressed to the editors of Review Commons (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a detailed description of the reasons motivating the challenge.
The editors of Review Commons will only consider challenges in exceptional cases that involve clearly inappropriately worded content. Scientific disagreement or controversies about the interpretation of the research, its novelty or significance are not sufficient grounds for challenging a review and should be addressed in the authors’ reply.
When an appeal is considered, the Review Commons editors will offer the authors a call to discuss their case.
A decision on the appeal will be made by the editors of Review Commons, in consultation with members of the Advisory Board or the other reviewers when necessary.
Submitting to an affiliate journal
Upon receipt of the reviews, authors can transfer their manuscript, the reviews and their response to one of the 23 journals affiliated with Review Commons. The transfer is triggered by authors directly from the Review Commons editorial system.
Authors have a recommended four weeks to prepare an initial response to reviewers in the form of a revision plan (see link to template below), as well as a preliminary revision of the manuscript. This short period of time is intended to provide authors with the possibility to address presentation issues and other minor revisions.
It is, however, also possible for authors to request an extension of this deadline if they would prefer embarking upfront in major revisions that include additional experimentation.
To clearly indicate to affiliate journal how the manuscripts should be considered — a preliminary revision with a revision plan vs a fully revised study — authors should use one of the two following template documents:
- REVISION PLAN: (download template) This document should delineate the revisions that authors plan to carry out in response to the points raised by the referees.
- FULL REVISION: (download template) This template should be used only if the submitted manuscript is an already fully revised manuscript in response to the points raised by the reviewers.
Selecting carefully one of the template above is important as it will inform the editors of affiliate journals on the intention of the authors.
Review Commons editors will not comment or advise on which revision would be required for publication in affiliate journals.
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 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.