General referee guidelines

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Referee guidelines

For papers submitted to a journal published by IOP

Last updated June 2015

These guidelines describe the general peer review requirements for articles submitted to the majority of IOP Publishing’s own journals and many of the journals published on behalf of its partner organisations. Further detail on the peer review process is available in our peer review policy.

Minor variations do exist and any journal-specific guidelines can be found on the specific journal’s homepage. In addition, the 'Guide to referee' section at the top of the referee report form contains further guidance on reviewing a range of different article types such as Fast Track Communications, Special Issue articles, Topical Reviews and Notes.

Thank you for acting as a referee for our journals and the communities that they serve. We rely on the expertise of our reviewers and their reports to maintain the quality of each journal.

We would be interested to hear from you if you wish to volunteer as a referee or if you wish to recommend a colleague who would be a suitable referee. In these cases nominations are approved by the Publisher, who carefully monitors our pool of referees.

Overview

IOP Publishing journals publish high-quality, peer-reviewed research papers from all areas of physics and other physical sciences. Therefore, we are looking for articles that are more than merely correct; they must add significantly to the field, and we kindly ask you to bear this in mind when reviewing an article for us.

(Exceptions to this rule are the journals Materials Research Express and Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express, where papers are reviewed only to confirm they are original and technically sound. If you have been asked to review for one of these Express titles, please refer instead to the journal's homepage and the specific guidance on the referee report form.)

Invitation to review an article

You will receive an e-mail invitation from the journal that includes the manuscript title, abstract, names of the authors, invitation response links and a deadline for submitting your report. In addition to your availability, please consider whether the topic of this work is within your field of expertise and whether you have any conflict of interest with the authors (see our peer review policy for further details about conflict of interest). Please let us know if you are accepting or declining our invitation to review as soon as possible, to minimise delay for the authors. To tell us whether you can review the article there is no need to log in; simply click on the appropriate invitation response link in the e-mail.

If you are able to review the article but require more time to prepare a report we are happy to consider an extension; please contact the journal directly to request this. A full-text PDF of the manuscript is also available on request if you require this additional information to decide whether you are able to review the article. If you are unable to review, we would be grateful if you would suggest an alternative referee. In addition, if you are unavailable for a period of time (months) or would like to avoid receiving any more review requests, please send this information with your decline response and we will update your contact record as appropriate.

Agreeing to review an article

When you click on the 'Agreed' link in the original invitation e-mail you will automatically receive another e-mail containing a direct link to view online the full PDF of the manuscript and the referee report form, with a deadline for submitting your report. You can also view the PDF and report form by logging in to your referee centre. As before, if you require an extension please contact the journal directly.

Reporting on an article

If you have not acted as a referee before we recommend that you consult our 'Introduction to refereeing' guide.

The report form (or 'score sheet') includes a quality assessment section, a question section, a recommendation section, a box to insert confidential comments intended for the Editors only, and a separate box for comments that will be sent to the author. You may also upload a file containing your comments. Please remember to use appropriate language in your comments for the author. There is no need to mention minor grammatical errors in your report, but listing errors in formulae or notation, or typographical errors which influence scientific rigour, is very valuable. The buttons below the article title on the score sheet allow you to directly view the PDF, supplementary data or the abstract. Specific guidelines on completing and submitting your report are also available via the instructions tab.

Quality assessment

On the report form (or score sheet) you will be asked to rate the quality of the paper out of 10 on three aspects (where 1 is the lowest score and 10 is the highest).

1

Originality. Is the work relevant and novel? Does it add significantly to results that are already published? Is this paper likely to be cited in future?

2

Scientific rigour. Is the paper scientifically correct and robust? Are the scientific arguments and interpretation accurate and consistent with the results presented?

3

Significance. What impact do you think this paper will have on the field and surrounding areas? Why should this work be published?

Preparing your report

When preparing your report it will be helpful to the author(s) and the Editors if you could consider the following key points related to scientific quality and presentation. The motivation and relevance of the research are particularly important, and the paper should fall within the scope of the journal. Also, if you think the work could be published after revision, which areas require improvement to bring the paper up to the required quality standards? If you think the work should be rejected, why have you made this recommendation?

Quality

  • Is this paper scientifically rigorous, accurate and correct?
  • Is the work relevant and novel and does it add significantly to results that are already published?
  • What impact do you think this paper will have in the field? How timely is this paper?
  • Has the author made reference to the most recent and most appropriate work?

Presentation

  • Is the title adequate and appropriate?
  • Is the paper well written and the work clearly communicated? Please note we will edit upon acceptance and correct any grammatical or typographical errors.
  • Does the abstract contain the essential information about the paper? Is it complete by itself and suitable for direct inclusion in an abstracting service?
  • Can the paper be shortened without detriment to the content? Are the text and mathematics brief but still clear? If you recommend shortening please suggest what could be omitted.
  • Are diagrams and tables clear and essential, and captions informative?
  • Does the paper contain a carefully written conclusion, summarising what has been learned and why it is interesting and useful?

Recommendation

You will be asked to give your recommendation, which should be supported by your written comments for the author (see below). Please note that if major revisions are required, the paper should be rejected and the authors asked to resubmit as a new paper once they have made the revisions.

Written comments

Referees are asked to concentrate on making well-substantiated comments about the originality and significance of the work, in addition to checking and commenting on the scientific rigour of the results. This information is essential for evaluating the quality level and for identifying contributions which represent a significant advance in the field. While a detailed summary of the paper is not necessary, constructive comments on these key areas are highly valued.

Occasionally we receive reports which are very short and do not provide evidence to support the final recommendation. On receipt of such reports we may contact the referee to request some additional comments, both to assist us with assessment and to assist the author with any potential revision.

When two referees submit conflicting reports we may consult a senior referee or Board Member to act as an adjudicator and submit a report. This additional report and advice will be used to inform our decision. Following adjudication, if your recommendation is overruled we will inform you. We will be happy to provide you with an anonymous copy of the other referee report for your reference, on request.

Revision stage

Depending on the recommendation and comments in your report we may also invite you to review the revised manuscript. Please note that when reporting on a revision we expect you to read the author reply to your comments and check the changes in their revised manuscript, then decide if the revision is now suitable for publication. It is generally not appropriate to request additional changes (not mentioned in your original report) at this stage. If the authors fail to answer your criticisms, please check the 'Unsatisfactory Revision' box on the report form and describe the areas that were not addressed in the revision in your comments. Please also note that we do not expect the review process to exceed more than one round of revisions, except for minor final corrections. Whether or not we invite you to review the revision, we will inform you of our final decision on the manuscript. We are also willing to provide the other referee reports (anonymized) for your reference, on request.

Acknowledgement

You will receive an acknowledgement e-mail when we receive your report on the original or revised manuscript. Thank you for your help in reviewing papers for IOP Publishing. We hope that you find our refereeing procedure straightforward and would welcome your comments on any improvements we could make in our service to referees and to authors. If you require a formal confirmation of your service as a referee, please contact the journal directly.

Referee reward scheme

To help recognise the vital contribution our referees make to the publishing process, IOP Publishing has introduced a reward scheme based on open access discounts. When you review an article you may claim a 10% credit towards the cost of publishing an article in the same journal on a gold open access basis. A referee reward credit will be given for every review you complete, subject to terms and conditions. More details, and a list of participating journals, can be found here.

Which journals these guidelines apply to

These guidelines are applicable to the journals listed below. For guidelines specific to other partner journals, including the American Astronomical Society titles, please consult those journals’ respective homepages. Journal homepages can be accessed from iopscience.iop.org/journals.