Guide for Reviewers
A general peer-review policy for all Nature Portfolio journals is available.
Online manuscript review
We ask reviewers to submit their comments via our online submission system using the link provided in the editor's email. If you need assistance, please contact the journal's editorial office.
Criteria for publication
To be published in npj Systems Biology and Applications, a paper should meet several general criteria:
- The data are technically sound
- The paper provides strong evidence for its conclusions
- The manuscript is important to scientists in the specific field covered by the journal
The review process
All submitted manuscripts are read in full by the editors. As peer review requires substantial investment of time and effort, we send only those papers that seem most likely to meet our criteria for publication to formal review. Those papers judged by the editors to be of insufficient interest to the specific field, or otherwise inappropriate, are rejected promptly without external review. This initial selection also saves authors time by allowing them to pursue publication in a more suitable venue more quickly.
Reviewed manuscripts are sent to at least two, and typically three, reviewers. The editors consider the reviewers' advice when making a decision on the paper. Papers may be rejected after review, or the authors could be invited to revise their work and resubmit. Once all issues raised in review and by the editors have been resolved and the paper meets all standards for publication in the journal, a paper can be accepted.
Reviewers are welcome to recommend a particular course of action, but they should bear in mind that the editors are responsible for making the decision on the paper. Further, other reviewers may have different views, and the editors may have to make a decision after weighing conflicting advice. We ask that reviewers provide us with the information on which a decision should be based. Setting out the arguments for and against publication is often as helpful as a direct recommendation. Our primary responsibility is to serve our readers and the scientific community at large, and as such, we must evaluate the merits of each paper in the context of the others also under consideration. Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, and we do not always follow the majority recommendation. We evaluate the strength of the arguments raised by each reviewer and by the authors, and we may also consider other information not available to either party.
We take reviewers' criticisms very seriously, and in particular, we are very reluctant to disregard technical concerns. We may go back to reviewers for further advice, particularly in cases where there are disagreements, or where the authors believe they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that you are willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are very aware, however, that it is not reasonable for you to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to provide a fair hearing for the authors. We may also occasionally bring in additional reviewers to resolve disputes, but we prefer to avoid doing so unless there is a specific issue on which we absolutely must have further advice.
We routinely inform reviewers of our decisions and send copies of the other referees' reports by email. Reviewers who are overruled should realize that this does not imply any lack of confidence in their judgment; it is not uncommon for experts to disagree, and in the absence of a consensus, the editors must still reach a decision.
When you agree to review a paper, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions as well. However, we assess revised papers carefully, and will not send them to re-review if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the criticisms raised in the previous assessment.
Reviewer selection is critical to the review process, and we base our choice on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations and our own previous experience of a reviewer's performance. For instance, we seek reviewers who are timely, careful and critical but fair.
We ask reviewers 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 please identify them to the editors when you submit your review. Consulting with experts from outside your own laboratory may be acceptable, but please check with the editors before doing so, to avoid involving anyone who may have been excluded by the authors.
We do not release reviewer identities to authors or to other reviewers, except when you intentionally sign your comments to authors. Signing of reviewer reports is entirely voluntary. Reviewer comments to the authors, whether signed or not, are subsequently shared with the other reviewers.
Authors should not make any attempts to determine the identities of anonymous reviewers or confront reviewers. For those reviewers that do prefer to remain anonymous, our own policy is to neither confirm nor deny any speculation about their identity.
Editing reviewers' reports
As a matter of policy, we do not suppress reviewer comments to the authors; any comments that were intended for the authors are transmitted, regardless of what we may think of the content. On rare occasions, we may edit a report to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information about other matters. We seek to ensure a constructive review process, and therefore ask reviewers 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.
We avoid reviewers whom the authors have excluded, for whatever reason, within our guidelines. We also avoid reviewers who have had 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 possible biases so we ask reviewers to draw our attention to anything that might affect their review, and to decline to review in cases where you cannot be objective or where you could ultimately be perceived to be biased.
We recognize, however, that competing interests are not always clear-cut, and the above circumstances need not automatically undermine the validity of a report. Indeed, the people best-qualified to evaluate a paper are often those closest to the field, and a sceptical attitude towards a particular claim does not mean that a reviewer cannot be persuaded by new evidence.
Reviewers who have reviewed a paper for another journal might feel that it is unfair to the authors for them to re-review it for npj Systems Biology and Applications. 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 his or her opinion.
For anyone relatively new to peer review or wishing to refresh their skills, we recommend the free online Masterclasses course on Peer Review.