Spinal Cord and Springer Nature are pleased to share detailed online Reviewer Tutorials - including interactive quizzes and a downloadable how to peer review guide - which cover the following topics:
- Overview on Peer Review: Why, Who & How?
- Evaluating manuscripts
- After the Review
You can also watch a brief video giving an overview of the tutorials here.
On this page: About the Journal |Criteria for publication | The review process | Selecting referees | Upon receiving a manuscript to referee | Confidentiality | Writing the report | Editing referee reports | Timing | Conflicts of interest | Publication policy and ethical considerations
About the journal
Spinal Cord is a specialised, international journal that has been publishing spinal cord related manuscripts since 1963. It appears monthly, online and in print, and accepts contributions on spinal cord anatomy, physiology and management of injury and disease. Spinal Cord is multi-disciplinary and publishes contributions on basic science, clinical and applied studies, psychology and epidemiology of spinal disorders. It publishes high quality original papers and topical reviews.
Criteria for publication
Spinal Cord receives many more submissions than it can publish each month. It is therefore important that manuscripts are critically evaluated for compliance with the following criteria:
- strong evidence for the conclusions that are drawn
- novelty (abstracts, meeting reports and www preprints are not considered to compromise novelty)
- broad biological significance
- importance to the specific field
The review process
All submitted manuscripts are assessed by the editor(s) for suitability for the review process. The views of an Editorial Board member may be sought for further input towards this decision. To save authors and referees time, only those manuscripts judged most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent out for formal review.
Manuscripts that are sent for formal review go to at least two referees. Based on their advice, the editor decides to:
- accept the manuscript, with or without minor revision
- invite the authors to revise the manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached
- or reject the manuscript, typically on grounds of lack of novelty, insufficient conceptual advance or major technical and/or interpretational problems.
Referees may recommend a particular course of action in their confidential comments to the editor, but should bear in mind that the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. Furthermore, editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, but rather are based on an evaluation of the strengths of the arguments raised by each referee and by the authors. The most useful referee reports, therefore, are those that set out clear, substantiated arguments and refrain from recommending a course of action in the comments directed to the authors.
Referees may, on occasion, be asked for further advice, particularly in cases where they disagree with one another, or where the authors believe that they have been misunderstood on points of fact. This kind of discussion is sometimes necessary to provide an effective and fair review process. We do understand, however, that referees are reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to come to a fair conclusion. In certain cases, additional referees or members of our Editorial Board may be consulted to resolve disputes, but this is avoided unless there is a specific issue on which further advice is required.
Referee selection is critical to the review process, and our choice is based on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations, and our previous experience with the referee. We avoid using referees who are chronically slow, sloppy, too harsh or too lenient. We invite referees and only on acceptance of the invitation will a referee have access to the full paper.
Upon receiving a manuscript to referee
To avoid unnecessary delays in processing manuscripts, please do the following immediately upon receipt of a manuscript for review:
- double-check the deadline to ensure that there have been no misunderstandings
- regarding timing, and contact the editorial office immediately if you anticipate any difficulties in meeting it
- read the editor's letter carefully and be sure to note any points specific to the manuscript that the editor may have requested your opinion on
- skim the manuscript and consider whether there might be a conflict of interest for you (with the authors, their institution, their funding sources) and whether you can judge the article impartially
- consider whether the topic seems to fit the scope of the journal and is likely to be of sufficient general interest for publication.
Referees should treat the review process as being strictly confidential, and should keep the following guidelines in mind:
- manuscripts refereed for Spinal Cord should not be discussed with anyone not directly involved in the review process
- if colleagues are consulted, they should be identified to the editors
- if experts from outside the referee's own laboratory are consulted, referees should check with the editors beforehand to avoid involving anyone who may have been excluded by the editor
- referees should, as a rule, not disclose their identities to the authors or to other colleagues since they may be asked to comment on the criticisms of other referees and may then find it difficult to be objective. Should they feel strongly about making their identities known to the authors, they should do so via the editor. We strongly disapprove of any attempt by authors to determine the identities of referees or to confront them, and encourage referees to neither confirm nor deny any speculation in this regard.
Writing the report
The primary purpose of referee reports is to provide the editors with the information that they need to reach a decision, but they should also instruct the authors on how to strengthen their manuscript. Referees are asked to submit both confidential comments to the editor and those that can be directly transmitted to the authors. We recommend the following division of the report:
Referees are asked to maintain a positive and impartial, but critical, attitude in evaluating manuscripts. Criticisms should remain dispassionate; offensive language is not acceptable. As far as possible, a negative report should explain to the authors the weaknesses of their manuscript, so that they can understand the basis for a decision to ask for revision or to reject the manuscript.
The ideal report should include:
- an initial paragraph that summarises the major findings and the referee's overall impressions, as well as highlighting major shortcomings of the manuscript.
- specific numbered comments, which may be broken down into major and minor criticisms if appropriate (numbering facilitates both the editor's evaluation of the manuscript and the authors' rebuttal to the report).
The report should answer the following questions:
- what are the major claims and how significant are they?
- are the claims novel and convincing?
- are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of earlier literature?
- who will be interested and why?
- does the paper stand out in some way from the others in its field?
- are there other experiments that would strengthen the paper?
For manuscripts that may merit further consideration, it is also helpful if referees can provide advice on the following points where appropriate:
- how the clarity of the writing might be improved (without necessarily going into specific details of spelling and grammar)
- how the manuscript might be shortened
- how to do the study justice without overselling the claims
- how to represent earlier literature more fairly
- how to improve the presentation of methodological detail so that the experiments can be reproduced
- the submission of supplementary data on the Spinal Cord web site to enhance the presentation (depositing, for example, crystallographic information, source code for modelling studies, microarray data, detailed methods, mathematical derivations, long tables and movies).
This author report should not include a recommendation regarding publication, which is regarded as confidential information since the final decision regarding acceptance, revision or rejection rests with the editor.
Peer Review of Data
Referees are encouraged to check the manuscript's Data availability statement, where applicable. They should consider if the authors have complied with the journal's policy on the availability of research data, and whether reasonable effort has been made to make the data that support the findings of the study available for replication or reuse by other researchers. Peer referees are entitled to request access to underlying data (and code) when needed for them to perform their evaluation of a manuscript.
In addition to providing a report that goes to the authors (as above), we ask reviewers to provide some confidential comments to the Editor and to answer the following questions at the time of submitting their report through our online system (these are not transmitted to the authors):
|Recommendation for publication||Acceptable without revision / Acceptable with revision not requiring consideration by a referee / Acceptable with revision but requiring consideration by a referee / More suitable for publication elsewhere / Not suitable for publication|
|Are you willing to look at a revised version of this paper?||Yes / No|
|Is the question or subject important?||Very Important / Somewhat Important / Not Important / Not applicable|
|Is the work original?||Very Original / Somewhat Original / Not Original / Not applicable|
|Are the methods sound?||Very Sound / Somewhat Sound / Not Sound / Not applicable|
|Are the conclusions and interpretations of the data reasonable?||Very Reasonable / Somewhat Reasonable / Not Reasonable / Not applicable|
|Is the paper sufficiently important or interesting to warrant a commentary from an expert in the area?||Yes / No|
|Is the paper well organised?||Very Well Organised / Somewhat Organised / Not Organised / Not applicable|
|Does the English and grammar require attention?||A lot of attention / A small amount of attention / No attention / Not applicable|
|Are the tables and figures necessary?||High quality / Acceptable quality / Poor quality / Not applicable|
|What is the length of the manuscript?||Too Long / Appropriate / Too short / Not applicable|
Additional confidential comments to the editor might include:
- a definite recommendation regarding publication
- an assessment of how much any suggested additional experiments would improve the manuscript, and of how difficult they would be to complete within a reasonable timeframe (1-2 months)
- in cases where the manuscript is unacceptable in its present form, an opinion about whether the study is sufficiently promising to encourage resubmission in the future.
Editing referee reports
As a matter of policy, we do not suppress referee reports. Almost always, any comments intended for the authors are transmitted. On rare occasions, however, we may edit a report where the referee has made an obvious factual mistake, or to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information. We ask referees to avoid saying anything that may cause needless offence, but also expect authors to recognise that criticisms are not necessarily unfair simply.
Spinal Cord is committed to rapid editorial decisions and publication as efficiency in this process is a valuable service both to our authors and the scientific community as a whole. We therefore ask that referees respond promptly or inform us if they anticipate a significant delay. This allows us to keep the authors informed and, where necessary, find alternative referees.
Conflicts of interest
In order to ensure fairness in the referee process, we try to avoid referees who: have recent or ongoing collaborations with the authors, have commented on drafts of the manuscript, are in direct competition, have a history of dispute with the authors, or have a financial interest in the outcome. Because it is not possible for the editors to know of all possible biases, however, we ask referees to draw our attention to anything that might affect their report, including commercial interests, and to decline to referee in cases where they feel unable to be objective. We do not find it necessary to exclude referees who have reviewed a paper for another journal; the fact that two journals have independently identified a particular person as well qualified to referee a paper does not decrease the validity of her/his opinion in our view.
Publication policy and ethical considerations
In spite of our best efforts to identify breaches of publication policy or ethical conduct, such as plagiarism or author conflict of interest, the referees who are more familiar with the field are more likely to recognise such problems and should alert the editors to any potential problems in this regard.