Editorial criteria and processes

This document provides an outline of the editorial process involved in publishing a scientific paper (Article or Letter) in Nature, and describes how manuscripts are handled by editors between submission and publication.

Editorial processes are described for the following stages: At submission | After submission | After acceptance

At submission

Criteria for publication

The criteria for publication of scientific papers (Articles and Letters) in Nature are that they:

  • report original scientific research (the main results and conclusions must not have been published or submitted elsewhere)
  • are of outstanding scientific importance
  • reach a conclusion of interest to an interdisciplinary readership.

Further editorial criteria may be applicable for different kinds of papers, as follows:

  • large dataset papers: should aim to either report a fully comprehensive data set, defined by complete and extensive validation, or provide significant technical advance or scientific insight.
  • technical papers: papers that make solely technical advances will be considered in cases where the technique reported will have significant impacts on communities of fellow researchers.
  • therapeutic papers: in the absence of novel mechanistic insight, therapeutic papers will be considered if the therapeutic effect reported will provide significant impact on an important disease.

The difference between an Article and a Letter is explained in the manuscript formatting guide.
Articles and Letters published in Nature have an exceptionally wide impact, both among scientists and, frequently, among the general public.

Who decides which papers to publish?

Nature has space to publish only 8% or so of the 200 papers submitted each week, hence its selection criteria are rigorous. Many submissions are declined without being sent for review.
Figures for recent years (original research only) are shown in the table below:

Year N. of submissions N. papers published % published
1997 7,680 825 10.7
1998 7,820 945 12.1
1999 8,058 851 10.6
2000 8,643 951 11.0
2001 8,837 937 10.6
2002 9,356 889 9.5
2003 9,581 859 9.0
2004 9,943 869 8.7
2005 8,943 915 9.8
2006 9,847 842 8.6
2007 10,332 808 7.8
2008 10,339 822 8.0
2009 11,769 803 6.8
2010 10,287 809 7.9
2011 10,047 813 8.1
2012 10,576 858 8.1
2013 10,952 856 7.8
2014 10,511 884 8.4
2015 10,427 790 7.6
2016 10,859 847 7.8
2017 10,768 820 7.6

Nature does not employ an editorial board of senior scientists, nor is it affiliated to a scientific society or institution, thus its decisions are independent, unbiased by scientific or national prejudices of particular individuals. Decisions are quicker, and editorial criteria can be made uniform across disciplines. The judgement about which papers will interest a broad readership is made by Nature's editors, not its referees. One reason is because each referee sees only a tiny fraction of the papers submitted and is deeply knowledgeable about one field, whereas the editors, who see all the papers submitted, can have a broader perspective and a wider context from which to view the paper.

How to submit an Article or Letter

Authors should use the formatting guide section to ensure that the level, length and format (particularly the layout of figures and tables and any Supplementary Information) conforms with Nature's requirements, at submission and each revision stage. This will reduce delays. Manuscripts should be submitted via our online manuscript submission system. Although optional, the cover letter is an excellent opportunity to briefly discuss the importance of the submitted work and why it is appropriate for the journal. Please avoid repeating information that is already present in the abstract and introduction. The cover letter is not shared with the referees, and should be used to provide confidential information such as conflicts of interest and to declare any related work that is in press or submitted elsewhere.
All Nature editors report to the Editor of Nature, who sets Nature's publication policies. Authors submitting to Nature do so on the understanding that they agree to these policies.

After submission

What happens to a submitted Article or Letter?

The first stage for a newly submitted Article or Letter is that the editorial staff consider whether to send it for peer-review. On submission, the manuscript is assigned to an editor covering the subject area, who seeks informal advice from scientific advisors and editorial colleagues, and who makes this initial decision. The criteria for a paper to be sent for peer-review are that the results seem novel, arresting (illuminating, unexpected or surprising), and that the work described has both immediate and far-reaching implications. The initial judgement is not a reflection on the technical validity of the work described, or on its importance to people in the same field.
Special attention is paid by the editors to the readability of submitted material. Editors encourage authors in highly technical disciplines to provide a slightly longer summary paragraph that descries clearly the basic background to the work and how the new results have affected the field, in a way that enables nonspecialist readers to understand what is being described. Editors also strongly encourage authors in appropriate disciplines to include a simple schematic summarizing the main conclusion of the paper, which can be published with the paper as Supplementary Information. Such figures can be particularly helpful to nonspecialist readers of cell, molecular and structural biology papers.
Once the decision has been made to peer-review the paper, the choice of referees is made by the editor who has been assigned the manuscript, who will be handling other papers in the same field, in consultation with editors handling submissions in related fields when necessary. Most papers are sent to two or three referees, but some are sent to more or, occasionally, just to one. Referees are chosen for the following reasons:

  • independence from the authors and their institutions
  • ability to evaluate the technical aspects of the paper fully and fairly
  • currently or recently assessing related submissions
  • availability to assess the manuscript within the requested time.

Referees' reports

The ideal referee's report indicates

  • who will be interested in the new results and why
  • any technical failings that need to be addressed before the authors' case is established.

Although Nature's editors themselves judge whether a paper is likely to interest readers outside its own immediate field, referees often give helpful advice, for example if the work described is not as significant as the editors thought or has undersold its significance. Although Nature's editors regard it as essential that any technical failings noted by referees are addressed, they are not so strictly bound by referees’ editorial opinions as to whether the work belongs in Nature.

Competitors

Some potential referees may be engaged in competing work that could influence their opinion. To avoid such conflicts of interest, Nature requires potential referees to disclose any professional and commercial competing interests before undertaking to review a paper, and requires referees not to copy papers or to circulate them to un-named colleagues. All referees agree to Nature's conditions before Nature sends them a manuscript to assess.
Although Nature editors go to every effort to ensure manuscripts are assessed fairly, Nature is not responsible for the conduct of its referees.
Nature welcomes authors' suggestions for suitable independent referees (with their contact details), but editors are free to decide themselves who to use as referees. Nature editors will normally honour requests that a paper not be sent to one or two (but no more) competing groups for review.

Speed

Nature makes decisions about submitted papers as rapidly as possible. All manuscripts are handled electronically throughout the consideration process. Authors are usually informed within a week if the paper is not being considered. Most referees honour their prior agreement with Nature to deliver a report within seven days or other agreed time limit, and send their reports online. Decisions by editors are routinely made very rapidly after receipt of reports, and Nature offers an advance online publication (AOP) service to an increasing number of manuscripts.

What the decision letter means

All Articles and Letters published in Nature go through at least one round of review, usually two or three, sometimes more. At each stage, the editor will discuss the manuscript with editorial colleagues in the light of referees’ reports, and send a letter to the author offering one of the following options:

  • The paper is accepted for publication without any further changes required from the authors.
  • The paper is accepted for publication in principle once the authors have made some revisions in response to the referees’ comments. Under these circumstances, revised papers are not usually sent back to the referees because further technical work has not been required, but are accepted for publication once the editors have checked that the referees’ suggestions have been implemented and the paper is in the required format (the formatting guide section is helpful to this end).
  • A final decision on publication is deferred, pending the authors’ response to the referees’ comments. Under these circumstances, further experiments or technical work are usually required to address some or all of the referees’ concerns, and revised papers are sent back to some or all of the referees for a second opinion. Revised papers should be accompanied by a point-by-point response to all the comments made by all the referees.
  • The paper is rejected because the referees have raised considerable technical objections and/or the authors’ claim has not been adequately established. Under these circumstances, the editor’s letter will state explicitly whether or not a resubmitted version would be considered. If the editor has invited the authors to resubmit, authors must ensure that all the referees’ technical comments have been satisfactorily addressed (not just some of them), unless specifically advised otherwise by the editor in the letter, and must accompany the resubmitted version with a point-by-point response to the referees’ comments. Editors will not send resubmitted papers to the reviewers if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address all the referees’ criticisms.
  • The paper is rejected with no offer to reconsider a resubmitted version. Under these circumstances, authors are strongly advised not to resubmit a revised version as it will be declined without further review. If the authors feel that they have a strong scientific case for reconsideration (if the referees have missed the point of the paper, for example) they can appeal the decision in writing. But in view of Nature's extreme space constraints and the large number of papers under active consideration at any one time, editors cannot assign a high priority to consideration of such appeals. The main grounds for a successful appeal for reconsideration are if the author can identify a specific technical or other point of interest which had been missed by the referees and editors previously. Appeals written in general or vague terms, or that contain arguments not relevant to the content of the particular manuscript, are not likely to be successful. Manuscripts cannot be submitted elsewhere while an appeal is being considered.

Editors’ letters also contain detailed guidance about the paper’s format and style where appropriate (see below), which should be read in conjunction with the manuscript formatting guide when revising and resubmitting.
In replying to the referees’ comments, authors are advised to use language that would not cause offence when their paper is shown again to the referees, and to bear in mind that if a point was not clear to the referees and/or editors, it is unlikely that it would be clear to the nonspecialist readers of Nature.

Appeals

If Nature declines to publish a paper and does not suggest resubmission, authors are strongly advised to submit their paper for publication elsewhere. If an author wishes to appeal against Nature's decision, the appeal must be made in writing, not by telephone, and should be confined to the scientific case for publication. Nature’s editors are unable to assign high priority to consideration of appeals.
Authors often ask for a new referee to be consulted, particularly in cases where two referees have been used and one is negative, the other positive. Nature is reluctant to consult new referees unless there is a particular, relevant area of scientific expertise that was lacking in the referees already used. Authors should note that as Nature is an interdisciplinary journal, referees for a paper are chosen for different reasons, for example a technical expert and a person who has a general overview of a field might both referee the same paper. A referee might be selected for expertise in only one area, for example to judge if a statistical analysis is appropriate, or if a particular technique that is essential to underpin the conclusion has been undertaken properly. This referee’s opinion must be satisfied for the manuscript to be published, but as this referee may not know about the field concerned, an endorsement in isolation from the other referee(s) would not constitute grounds for publication. Editors’ decisions are weighted according to the expertise of the referees, and not by a “voting” procedure.
Hence, Nature prefers to stick with the original referees of a particular paper rather than to call in new referees to arbitrate, unless there is some specific way in which the referee can be shown to be technically lacking or biased in judgement.
If Nature's editors agree to reconsider a paper, the other original referee(s) will have the chance to see and comment on the report of the referee who is the subject of the complaint. New referees can often raise new sets of points, which complicates and lengthens the consideration process instead of simplifying it.
If an author remains unsatisfied, he or she can write to the Editor, citing the manuscript reference number. In all these cases, it is likely that some time will elapse before Nature can respond, and the paper must not be submitted for publication elsewhere during this time.

After acceptance

See this document for a full description of what happens after acceptance and before publication.

Formats and lengths of papers

Space in Nature is extremely limited, and so format requirements must be strictly observed, as advised by the editor handling the submission, and detailed in the manuscript formatting guide.

Subediting of accepted papers

After a paper is accepted, it is subedited (copyedited) to ensure maximum clarity and reach, a process that enhances the value of papers in various ways. Nature's subeditors are happy to advise authors about the format of their Articles and Letters after acceptance for publication. Their role is to

  • edit the language for maximum clarity and precision for those in other disciplines. Special care is given to papers whose authors’ native language is not English, and special attention is given to summary paragraphs.
  • ensure that the paper is at the length specified by the manuscript editor (including number of figures).
  • ensure that the terminology and notation conform to Nature's house style.
  • ensure that the figures and tables are clear and will fit in the space available.

Proofs and reprints

Our subeditors send authors the edited text for approval before it is typeset. This enables most queries to be resolved before proof stage. Authors subsequently receive a proof (PDF) of the layout, including the figures. We suggest that authors send proofs to co-authors for them to check, but request that changes among the co-authors are coordinated so that only one author communicates with Nature and only one set of corrections is sent. The corresponding (or other single designated) author is responsible on behalf of all co-authors for the accuracy of all content, including spelling of names and current affiliations of all co-authors, so please ensure these are checked carefully.
Proofs are cycled between Nature’s production staff, our typesetter and the author by means of an online production-tracking system. Authors are provided with an encrypted link to this system after their paper has been accepted.
Instructions for ordering reprints are provided after the paper is scheduled for publication.

Publication and the media

Original research papers are assigned to an issue two weeks before publication, at which time authors will receive an e-mail notifying them of their scheduled publication date. Many papers are published online ahead of the print publication date: these authors will also be informed by e-mail when the online publication date is confirmed. All authors are informed of publication dates, whether ahead of or simultaneous with, the printed issue, on the day that Nature schedules them.
A week before the publication of an issue, Nature’s press office distributes a press release summarizing the content and highlighting papers of particular interest. Journalists are given the names of corresponding authors, together with phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses. On the Friday before publication, journalists are also given online access to the full text of all papers due to appear in that issue, whether or not the paper is summarized in the press release. They are permitted to show papers to independent specialists of their own choosing a few days in advance of publication, again under embargo conditions, solely for the purpose of eliciting comments on the work described.
Authors should try and be available to answer any enquiries in the days leading up to publication. Before publication, Nature's press office also informs the public information departments of all authors’ institutions to allow them to prepare their own publicity. Authors and their institutions are advised to coordinate any of their own publicity with Nature's press office, in the first instance by e-mail after their paper is accepted for publication.
The content of the press release and material described therein is embargoed until 1800 London time/1300 US Eastern Time on the day before publication and in all cases, authors are required to comply with Nature's pre-publicity and embargo policies.