For referees

On this page: Submitting a review | Criteria for publication | The review process | Selecting referees | Writing the review | Other questions for referees to consider | Confidentiality | Timing | Anonymity | Editing reviewer reports | Competing interests | Feedback to referees | General policies

Submitting a review

We encourage referees to submit their comments via our manuscript tracking system by following the link provided in the editor's e-mail. For help with the system, please contact the Editorial Assistant at nBME@nature.com.

Criteria for publication

Nature Biomedical Engineering receives many more submissions than it can publish. Therefore, we ask referees to keep in mind that to be published in the journal, a manuscript should meet several general criteria:

  • The data are technically sound
  • The manuscript provides strong evidence for its conclusions
  • The results are novel (we do not consider published abstracts and preprints to compromise novelty)
  • The manuscript is likely to be important to researchers in its specific field
  • The paper will be of interest to researchers working in other biomedical fields.

In general, to be acceptable a manuscript should represent a conceptual, fundamental, mechanistic, methodological, technological and/or therapeutic advance likely to influence current knowledge or practice in its field, and the implications of the findings reported should be of broader interest. There should be reasons for the work to deserve the visibility that publication in Nature Biomedical Engineering entails.

The review process

All submitted manuscripts are read by one or more editors, and only those that seem most likely to meet the journal's editorial criteria are sent for external peer review. Manuscripts that are judged not to meet the editorial criteria, or that are out of the scope of Nature Biomedical Engineering, are rejected promptly without external peer review (if needed, decisions may take into account advice from the Editorial Advisory Panel or other external experts). For more information, please refer to our Editorial process.

Manuscripts judged to be of potential interest to the journal's readership are sent for external peer review, typically to three reviewers. The editors then make a decision, based on the reviewers' advice, from among several possibilities:

  • Accept, with or without editorial revisions
  • Invite the authors to revise their manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached
  • Reject, but indicate to the authors that further work might justify a resubmission
  • Reject outright, typically on grounds of insufficient degree of advance, of specialist interest, or of major technical and/or interpretational problems

Referees are welcome to recommend a particular course of action, but they should bear in mind that other referees may have different views, and that the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. Therefore, the Editor recommends that reviewers provide editors with the information on which a decision should be based, setting out the arguments for and against publication or reconsideration.

Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, and editors do not always follow the majority recommendation. The editors evaluate the strength of the arguments raised by each referee and by the authors, and may also consider other information not available to either party. The primary responsibilities of the editors are to the authors and readers of the journal and to the scientific community at large, and in deciding how best to serve them, editors weigh the claims in each manuscript also against those of any related manuscripts under consideration.

The editors may contact referees for further advice, particularly in cases where referees disagree with each other, or where the authors believe that they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that referees be willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are aware, however, that referees are normally reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so the editors try to keep consultation to the minimum they judge necessary to provide a fair hearing for the authors.

When referees agree to review a manuscript, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions as well. However, the editors will not send resubmitted papers to the referees if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the referees' criticisms.

The editors take criticisms from referees seriously, and are reluctant to disregard technical concerns. In cases where one referee alone opposes publication, the editors may consult with the other referees as to whether they are applying an unduly critical standard. The editors occasionally bring in additional referees to resolve disputes, but prefer to avoid doing so unless there is a specific issue on which they feel a need for further advice.

Selecting referees

Referee selection is critical to the review process, and the editors base their choice on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations, and their own previous experience of a referee's characteristics. For instance, referees who are chronically slow, careless, too harsh or too lenient are avoided.

The editors contact potential referees before sending them manuscripts to review. Referees should bear in mind that these e-mail messages contain confidential information, and that it should be treated as such.

Writing the review

The primary purpose of the review is to instruct the authors on how the manuscript can be strengthened to the point where it may be acceptable. The review should also provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision. As far as is possible, a negative review should explain to the authors the weaknesses of their manuscript. However, referees should not feel obliged to provide detailed advice to authors of papers that do not meet the criteria for Nature Biomedical Engineering.

All feedback pertaining to the scientific evaluation of the manuscript should be stated in the comments that are sent to the authors. Confidential comments for the editor may be used to communicate useful sensitive information or opinion, but should in no way contradict the comments to the authors. The ideal review of primary research should answer the following questions:

  • What are the major claims of the manuscript and how significant are they?
  • Are the claims novel? If not, the referee should identify the major published papers that compromise novelty.
  • Who will be interested in the claims and why?
  • Does the manuscript stand out from published papers in its field?
  • Are the claims convincing? If not, what further evidence is needed?
  • Are there other experiments that would strengthen the paper? How much would they improve it, and how difficult are they likely to be?
  • Are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of previous literature?

Other questions for referees to consider

For manuscripts that may merit further consideration, it is also helpful if referees can advise on the following points:

  • Is the manuscript clearly written? If not, how could it be made more clear or accessible to non-specialists? (It is unnecessary to provide detailed comments on grammar or spelling; in the event of acceptance, copy editors will work on the manuscript.)
  • Could the manuscript be shortened?
  • Have the authors done themselves justice without overselling their claims?
  • Have they been fair in their treatment of previous literature?
  • Have they provided sufficient methodological detail so that the experiments could be reproduced?
  • Is the statistical analysis of the data sound?
  • Should the authors be asked to provide supplementary methods or data for publication alongside the manuscript? (Such data might include detailed methods, source code or mathematical derivations.)

Confidentiality

We ask referees to treat the review process as strictly confidential, and not to discuss the manuscript with anyone not directly involved in the review. It is acceptable to consult with laboratory colleagues, but referees should identify them to the editors. Consulting with experts from outside the referee's own laboratory may be acceptable, but the reviewer should check with the editor before doing so, as authors may have requested a few experts to be excluded.

Timing

Nature Biomedical Engineering is committed to rapid editorial decisions and publication, and we believe that an efficient editorial process is a valuable service both to our authors and to the scientific community as a whole. We therefore ask referees to respond promptly (normally within two weeks of receiving a manuscript, although this may be either longer or shorter by prior arrangement). If referees anticipate a long delay, they should notify the editor, so that the authors can be informed, and alternative referees sought if necessary.

Anonymity

We do not release the identities of referees to authors or to other referees, except when referees specifically ask to be identified. Before revealing their identities, referees should consider the possibility that they may be asked to comment on the criticisms of other referees; identified referees may find it more difficult to be objective in such circumstances. We ask referees not to identify themselves to authors without the editor's knowledge. If referees wish to reveal their identities, this should be done through the editor. We deplore any attempt by authors to confront referees or determine their identities. Our own policy is to neither confirm nor deny any speculation about referees' identities, and we encourage referees to consider adopting a similar policy.

Editing referee reports

As a matter of policy, we do not suppress referee reports; any comments that were intended for the authors are transmitted, regardless of what we may think of the content. On rare occasions, the editors may edit a report to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information about other matters. We ask referees to avoid saying anything that may cause needless offence; conversely, authors should recognize that criticisms are not necessarily unfair simply because they are expressed in robust language.

Competing interests

Our normal policy is to avoid referees whom the authors have excluded, for whatever reason. We also usually avoid referees who have recent or ongoing collaborations with the authors, who have commented on drafts of the manuscript, who are in direct competition to publish the same finding, who we know to have a history of dispute with the authors, or who have a financial interest in the outcome. It is not possible for the editors to know of all potential biases, however, so we ask referees to draw our attention to anything that might affect their review, and to decline to review in cases where they feel unable to be objective.

We recognize that competing interests are not always clear-cut, and any competing interests need not automatically undermine the validity of a report. Indeed, the people best qualified to evaluate a manuscript are often those closest to the field, and a sceptical attitude toward a particular claim does not mean that a referee cannot be persuaded by new evidence. The editors take these factors into account when weighing referee reports.

Referees who have reviewed a manuscript for another journal might feel that it is unfair to the authors for them to re-review it for Nature Biomedical Engineering. We disagree; the fact that two journals have independently identified a particular person as well-qualified to review a paper does not, in our view, decrease the validity of the reviewer's opinion.

Feedback to referees

When editors ask referees to re-review a manuscript that has been revised in response to their criticisms, referees are normally sent copies of the other referees' comments. Editors routinely inform referees of decisions and send copies of the other referees' reports. Referees are also informed if a manuscript is accepted. Referees who are overruled should realize that this does not imply any lack of confidence in their judgement; it is not uncommon for experts to disagree, and in the absence of a consensus the editors must still reach a decision.

General policies

The general peer-review policy for all Nature journals is available in the peer-review policy section of the joint editorial policies.