/Peer Review

Peer Review

General information

The following types of contribution to BMP’s journals are peer-reviewed: Research Articles, Letters, Reviews, Methodologies, Commentaries. All forms of published correction may also be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors.

Other contributed articles are not usually peer-reviewed. Nevertheless, articles published in these sections, particularly if they present technical information, may be peer-reviewed at the discretion of the editors.

For any general questions and comments about the peer-review process, the journal or its editorial policies that are not addressed here, we encourage reviewers to contact us using the feedback links in the box at the top right of each page in the authors & referees’ website.

Questions about a specific manuscript should be directed to the editor who is handling the manuscript.

Online manuscript review

We ask peer-reviewers to submit their reports via our secure online system by following the link provided in the editor’s email.

Criteria for publication

BMP’s journals receive many more submissions than they can publish. Therefore, we ask peer-reviewers to keep in mind that every paper that is accepted means that another good paper must be rejected. To be published in BMP’s journals, a paper should meet four general criteria:

  • Provides strong evidence for its conclusions.
  • Novel (we do not consider meeting report abstracts and preprints on community servers to compromise novelty).
  • Of extreme importance to scientists in the specific field.
  • Ideally, interesting to researchers in other related disciplines.

In general, to be acceptable, a paper should represent an advance in understanding likely to influence thinking in the field. There should be a discernible reason why the work deserves the visibility of publication in BMP’s journals rather than the best of the specialist journals.

The review process

All submitted manuscripts are read by the editorial staff. To save time for authors and peer-reviewers, only those papers that seem most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent for formal review. Those papers judged by the editors to be of insufficient general interest or otherwise inappropriate are rejected promptly without external review (although these decisions may be based on informal advice from specialists in the field).

Manuscripts judged to be of potential interest to our readership are sent for formal review, typically to two or three reviewers, but sometimes more if special advice is needed (for example on statistics or a particular technique). 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 specialist interest, lack of novelty, insufficient conceptual advance or major technical and/or interpretational problems

Reviewers are welcome to recommend a particular course of action, but they should bear in mind that the other reviewers of a particular paper may have different technical expertise and/or views, and the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. The most useful reports, therefore, provide the editors with the information on which a decision should be based. Setting out the arguments for and against publication is often more helpful to the editors than a direct recommendation one way or the other.

Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, and we do not always follow the majority recommendation. We try to 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. Our primary responsibilities are to our readers and to the scientific community at large, and in deciding how best to serve them, we must weigh the claims of each paper against the many others also under consideration.

We may return to reviewers for further advice, particularly in cases where they disagree with each other, or where the authors believe they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that reviewers should be willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are very aware, however, that reviewers are usually reluctant 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.

When reviewers agree to assess a paper, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions. However, editors will not send a resubmitted paper back to the reviewers if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the criticisms.

We take reviewers’ criticisms seriously; in particular, we are very reluctant to disregard technical criticisms. In cases where one reviewer alone opposes publication, we may consult the other reviewers as to whether s/he is applying an unduly critical standard. We occasionally bring in additional reviewers to resolve disputes, but we prefer to avoid doing so unless there is a specific issue, for example a specialist technical point, on which we feel a need for further advice.

Selecting peer-reviewers

Reviewer selection is critical to the publication process, and we base our choice on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations and our own previous experience of a reviewer’s characteristics. For instance, we avoid using people who are slow, careless, or do not provide reasoning for their views, whether harsh or lenient.

We check with potential reviewers before sending them manuscripts to review. Reviewers should bear in mind that these messages contain confidential information, which should be treated as such.

Writing the review

The primary purpose of the review is to provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision but the review should also instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their paper to the point where it may be acceptable. As far as possible, a negative review should explain to the authors the major weaknesses of their manuscript, so that rejected authors can understand the basis for the decision and see in broad terms what needs to be done to improve the manuscript for publication elsewhere. Referees should not feel obliged to provide detailed, constructive advice regarding minor criticisms of the manuscript if it does not meet the criteria for the journal (as outlined in the letter from the editor when asking for the review). Referees should be aware that authors of declined manuscripts may request that referee comments be transferred to another Nature journal where they can be used to determine suitability of publication at the receiving journal.

Confidential comments to the editor are welcome, but it is helpful if the main points are stated in the comments for transmission to the authors. The ideal review should answer the following questions:

  • Who will be interested in reading the paper, and why?
  • What are the main claims of the paper and how significant are they?
  • Is the paper likely to be one of the five most significant papers published in the discipline this year?
  • How does the paper stand out from others in its field?
  • Are the claims novel? If not, which published papers compromise novelty?
  • Are the claims convincing? If not, what further evidence is needed?
  • Are there other experiments or work that would strengthen the paper further?
  • How much would further work improve it, and how difficult would this be? Would it take a long time?
  • Are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of previous literature?
  • If the manuscript is unacceptable, is the study sufficiently promising to encourage the authors to resubmit?
  • If the manuscript is unacceptable but promising, what specific work is needed to make it acceptable?

Other questions to consider

We appreciate that reviewers are busy, and we are very grateful if they can answer the questions in the section above. However, if time is available, it is extremely helpful to the editors if reviewers can advise on some of the following points:

  • Is the manuscript clearly written?
  • If not, how could it be made more clear or accessible to nonspecialists?
  • Would readers outside the discipline benefit from a schematic of the main result to accompany publication?
  • Could the manuscript be shortened? (Because of pressure on space in our printed pages we aim to publish manuscripts as short as is consistent with a persuasive message.)
  • Should the authors be asked to provide supplementary methods or data to accompany the paper online? (Such data might include source code for modelling studies, detailed experimental protocols or mathematical derivations.)
  • 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 that the experiments could be reproduced?
  • Is the statistical analysis of the data sound, and does it conform to the journal’s guidelines?
  • Are the reagents generally available?
  • Are there any special ethical concerns arising from the use of human or other animal subjects?