Peer review policy

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Peer review policy

Last updated October 2016

All titles we publish strive to uphold the highest standards of impartiality and fairness. This policy describes the general principles and procedure operated by IOP Publishing for peer review on the majority of its titles. (A full list of journals this policy applies to is included at the end of this document.)

Topics covered include:

  • Principles of impartiality and referee anonymity
  • The stages of peer review that articles progress through
  • How referees are chosen
  • Use of adjudicators and the role of Editorial Board members
  • Our process for considering author appeals

Please also read IOP’s Ethical Policy for Journals, which discusses matters regarding publication ethics.

Impartiality

IOP journals are international in authorship and readership. Referees are carefully selected from the worldwide research community. Unbiased consideration is given to all manuscripts offered for publication regardless of whether or not the authors request publication on an open access basis and regardless of the race, gender, religious belief, ethnic origin, citizenship, political philosophy, sexual orientation, age or reputation of the authors.

Invitation to review an article

To uphold this impartiality, referees should consider any potential conflict of interest before agreeing to referee and should contact the editorial office to declare any potential conflict of interest in the following instances:

  • if you are in direct competition with the authors
  • if you are a co-worker or collaborator with one of the authors
  • if you are in a position to exploit the authors’ work (commercially or otherwise)
  • if you are in a position which prevents you from giving an objective opinion of the work.

Minor conflicts do not disqualify a referee from reporting on an article but will be taken into account when considering the referees' recommendations. Major conflicts of interest (especially relating to a financial commercial interest >£5000/year) do disqualify a referee. Referees should act within the spirit of the Nolan Principles of Public Life.

If you are unable to act as a referee due to a conflict of interest we will then select an alternative referee.

Referee reports and anonymity

Referee reports are sent to the authors with the decision letter. Referee reports are generally sent intact but may undergo minor editing for clarity, to correct spelling or typographical errors, or to remove any text that inadvertently reveals the referee’s identity.

Referee names are kept strictly confidential. Referee identities may only be disclosed to journal Editorial Board members, who are also instructed to maintain confidentiality. (Our journals thus operate the 'single-blind' review process, in which referees know the identity of the authors but authors do not know the identity of the referees.)

Referees are asked not to transmit reports directly to the authors.

We also ask that referees do not otherwise disclose their identity to the authors or discuss the papers they have reviewed with colleagues unless they have been published.

Single-blind and double-blind peer review

Whilst all our journals operate the single-blind review process, our “Express” journals, Materials Research Express and Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express, offer a double-blind peer review option. Authors who choose this option on submission to these journals remain anonymous to the referees throughout the review process. Authors are responsible for anonymizing their manuscript before submitting their paper. A checklist is provided here to help authors with this process.

Anonymizing your manuscript for double-blind peer review on Express journals: a checklist

Do not include author names or affiliations anywhere in the manuscript, or in any Supplementary Information files (or in any file names).

Provide a separate title page giving all the author names and affiliations (when you reach the “File Upload” stage on submission, please choose the file designation “Title Page”).

Do not include an Acknowledgments section containing author names in the manuscript on submission. The information can be added to the manuscript after completion of the peer review process.

Do not include work in the reference list that has not yet been accepted for publication.

When referring to your own work within the paper, avoid using terminology that might reveal your identity (e.g. avoid phrases such as “we have previously shown [reference]”).

Do not sign rebuttals at revision stage with author names, nor appeals.

General procedure

Pre-refereeing stage

Upon receiving a new manuscript, the Editorial office conducts initial pre-refereeing checks to ensure the article is legible, complete, correctly formatted, original, within the scope of the journal in question, in the style of a scientific article and written in clear English. Any article that has problems with any of the above criteria may be rejected at this stage.

Some of our larger journals also conduct a pre-refereeing quality assessment. If the journal has a particular requirement for articles to be of exceptionally high interest or urgency (for example, if the article is being submitted as a Fast Track Communication), then submissions that do not appear to meet these criteria may be rejected at this point.

Refereeing stage

Articles passing successfully through the pre-refereeing stage then begin formal peer review.

Research papers submitted for publication in the majority of IOP journals are generally sent to two independent referees who are asked to report on the quality, novelty, scientific rigour, significance to the field and presentation. (Non-paper article types, such as reviews or notes, may differ. See the 'Specific article types' section below).

Referees are selected from our reviewer database and we try to find the best combination of scientific expertise and referee experience for each paper.

Authors are welcome to suggest referees for their paper if they wish but this is not required. In the interests of impartiality, if an author-suggested reviewer is used then we will complement this with a review from a second referee chosen by the journal from the general referee pool.

Further information about the role of referees can be found in our Referee Guidelines.

IOP is committed to publishing high-quality material in its journals and most have high rejection rates; typically above 50%. Papers which referees deem to be technically sound, but of little interest, are usually rejected. (Exceptions to this are our express journals, Materials Research Express and Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express, where papers are reviewed only to confirm they are original and technically sound.)

If there is sufficient agreement between the referees,

1

the paper may be accepted in current form;

2

the referees' reports may be sent to the authors for revision of the paper;

3

the paper may be rejected; or

4

if the paper contains too many errors or problems for the referees to comment fully on the scientific content, the authors will be asked to make corrections and then resubmit the article.

In the case of rejection, authors have the right to appeal against this decision to the Editorial Board. For further details on our appeals policy please see the 'Appeals' section below.

Use of an adjudicator

If the referees’ reports are not in agreement, the paper and the reports are sent to an adjudicator (often a Board Member) who is first asked to form their own opinion of the paper and then to read the referees’ reports and adjudicate between them. If a referee is overruled by an adjudicator, we will notify the referee of this.

Revised papers

When authors make revisions to their article in response to the referees’ comments they are asked to submit a list of changes and any replies for transmission to the referees. The revised version is usually returned to at least one of the original referees who is then asked whether the revisions are satisfactory. If the referees remain dissatisfied, the paper can be referred to the Editorial Board of the journal for further consideration.

Refereeing times

We are proud that our journals’ processing times are consistently among the fastest in the communities we serve. If a reviewer proves unable to report, we will try to find an alternative referee as quickly as possible. However, if a referee requests a short extension to their deadline for providing a report, we will usually grant this if it is reasonable. We try to strike a balance between the needs of authors (who will often ask for as fast a review as possible), and those of referees (who will often prefer to have more time to thoroughly study the paper and compose their report).

In those rare cases where an article’s review process has been delayed due to unexpected difficulties in obtaining reports, we make use of our Editorial Board members’ expertise to conclude the process swiftly.

Appeals

Authors have the right to appeal against a rejection from our journals, whether it is after full review with referee reports or at the pre-refereeing stage. To lodge an appeal the author should contact the journal e-mail address, outlining their case for reconsideration. In order to be considered appeals must directly address the reasons given for the initial rejection decision. If referee reports were included with the rejection letter then these criticisms must be responded to in the appeal. Appeals that do not address referees’ comments, or which dismiss them out of hand, will not be considered.

Appeals are then sent to a member of the journal’s Editorial Board for consideration. If successful, an appeal can lead to the article’s review being resumed and the article may ultimately be published following any revisions the Board feels are necessary. However, if the appeal is rejected then the original rejection decision is upheld and no further consideration of that article is possible.

Please note, we must receive your appeal within 4 weeks of your rejection decision, otherwise we are unable to consider it.

Specific article types

Slightly different processes are in place for non-paper article types (e.g. Topical Reviews, Fast Track Communications, etc.) though the overall structure of the process will be the same. Please refer to the individual journal’s homepage, or enquire with the journal team via e-mail, for more details.

Which journals this policy applies to

Please note there are slight variations between journals in the specific processes that are used. Any journal-specific guidelines can be found on the journal’s homepage or in the 'Guide to referee' section at the top of the referee report form.