If you’re in any science social media group, you’ve encountered a peer review meme – the car with the horse hitch on the fender and the laser cannon on the roof, the gauntlet of reviewers armed with an assortment of blunt & edged weapons, and even pineapple on a pizza. It can be hard to remember that the principal purpose of peer review is to improve the manuscript – to make it clearer, more robust, and more reliable. A productive peer review process requires not only high-quality (and respectful) reviewer comments but also a detailed response from the authors to explain how issues can be resolved, dissipate potential misunderstandings, and provide arguments when opinions diverge Ideally, this amounts to a valuable scientific debate about the manuscript, which Review Commons’ refereed preprint format makes publicly available to the research community. If the authors also intend to submit their refereed preprint to a journal, the interaction will be mediated by editors. Laser cannons end up on the roof of leisure vehicles when there is a lack of clarity in the dialog between authors and editors.
Planning for publication
Review Commons has introduced two new templates to help authors streamline the journal publication process of their refereed preprints. The Revision Plan and the Full Revision are available on the Review Commons Guidelines for Authors page. Review Commons inverts the standard sequence of the peer review process by providing high-quality editorially-curated peer review before journal submission. Review Commons then posts the manuscript, the reviewer comments, and the authors’ response as a refereed preprint on bioRxiv or medRxiv (should the authors consider that their manuscript is not yet ready for primetime, they may at this stage withdraw it from the Review Commons system).
Authors can submit their refereed preprint package to one of seventeen journals from EMBO Press, eLife, PLOS, Company of Biologists, or Rockefeller University Press. It’s at this journal submission step that the two new templates will be useful for both authors and journal editors.
In the revision plan, authors have the option to explain how they plan to address the points raised by the reviewers before embarking on new experimentations and analyses.
In the revision plan, authors have the option to explain how they plan to address the points raised by the reviewers before embarking on new experimentations and analyses. A revision plan begins with a general statement – authors may, for example, write about the study’s goal, and its main conclusions, or highlight aspects of the reviewers’ comments. It could be considered an abbreviated, post-review cover letter. Authors then present to editors a detailed point-by-point plan of the additional experiments and analyses they will perform to respond to reviewers. This should allow editors to make informed decisions about how suitable the revised version is likely to be for their journal, saving time for both authors and editors. In the third section, the authors point out which revisions have already been done in response to reviewer comments – these are often minor text edits, alternate analysis of pre-existing data, or data not included in the first draft, but which already existed. These changes have been incorporated into the revised manuscript, forming the basis for both the refereed preprint and the journal submission.
The final section of the revision plan is one we suspect will be particularly useful in facilitating the interaction between Review Commons authors and affiliate journal editors: this is where authors can state clearly, in detail, which additional experiments, analyses, or changes to the manuscript requested by reviewers they do not wish to perform. This can be due to technical limitations – for example when materials are unavailable when the experiments are considered too costly or time-consuming, require the establishment of new collaborations, etc. But authors may, of course, disagree with the necessity or logic of the reviewer’s requests. Journal editors can then give an informed opinion on whether those changes would be considered essential for their publication.
Building a bridge from preprint to paper
The revision plan was created to help authors and editors discuss the requirements of the journal for a full revision before authors engage in time-consuming and resource-intensive additional experimentation. Alternatively, the authors may already have what they consider to be the final, fully revised manuscript – we’ve also added a simpler Full Revision template, which is essentially equivalent to the traditional point-by-point response.
The revision plan highlights the elements of refereed preprint that are crucial for a journal editor
The revision plan highlights the elements of refereed preprint that are crucial for a journal editor – they now need to fit the refereed preprint to the scientific scope and quality bar of their journal. It’s important to note that, like all elements of the refereed preprint package, these templates can be used at different journals, saving time in the resubmission process.
The refereed preprint accelerates the public dissemination of peer-reviewed research. Review Commons exposes reviews and authors’ replies to provide transparent access to the full extent of the scientific discourse, with its complexities and subtleties. The subsequent journal editorial process ensures that the published study matches the quality standards set by the journal. “The referee reports are there for the very niche case of interested individuals. The journals and the editors have a key role in the quality assurance of the peer-review process – to make sure that when the authors answer the reviewers’ comments, they’ve answered them adequately,” said RC author Mark Hanson. With the torrent of information currently available, journals also function as aggregators that help communities find the research that matters most for their interests. As RC author Marco Trizzino put it “(…) of course, journals are still important – if I publish a preprint, it’s going to reach a certain crowd, a certain audience. But if the paper goes into a specialized journal, it’s going to be more likely that people in the specific field are going to read the paper.” The revision plan template is a new piece of the constantly evolving refereed preprint package that Review Commons offers its authors – a bridge from preprint to paper.