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PLOS Medicine Guidelines for Reviewers

If you have been invited to review a manuscript, please use the online manuscript submission system.

Contents:

  1. About PLOS Medicine
  2. Criteria for Publication
  3. The Review Process
  4. Reviewer Selection
  5. Writing the Review
  6. Other Questions for Consideration
  7. Peer Review for Magazine Articles
  8. Confidentiality
  9. Timely Review
  10. Anonymity
  11. Editing Reviewers' Reports
  12. Competing Interests
  13. Feedback to Reviewers
  14. Sharing reviews with other PLOS Journals
  15. Thank You to Previous Reviewers

1. About PLOS Medicine

PLOS Medicine publishes articles relevant to clinicians, policymakers, and researchers across a range of settings that address the major biological, environmental, social, and political determinants of health. The editors make decisions on submissions based upon their potential to directly and substantially inform clinical practice or health policy, and their relevance to our international audience.

Articles given highest priority for publication are those that address conditions or risk factors that cause the greatest losses in years of healthy life and quality of life worldwide.

PLOS Medicine also seeks to publish articles in the area of translational medicine that provide substantial, novel mechanistic insights into disease processes, with potential implications for clinical care. Additionally PLOS Medicine considers articles on topics relating to the integrity and ethics of the research enterprise; the practice of medicine; and the application of research to practice to fall within its scope.

2. Criteria for Publication

Manuscripts should represent a substantial advance in medical science or medical practice within the scope of the journal as noted above in terms of:

  • Originality
  • Importance to researchers or practitioners in the field
  • Interest for researchers or practitioners outside the field
  • Rigorous methodology with substantial evidence for its conclusions
  • Conducted according to the highest ethical standards

3. The Review Process

Submitted manuscripts will be assigned to one of the PLOS Medicine editors. If the paper is deemed to be within the scope of the journal with regard to content and of a minimum quality an academic editor with expertise in the relevant area, usually one of our editorial board, is then also assigned to the paper. The editor and editorial board member will promptly assess the manuscript and will decide if it is likely to meet the requirement of providing a major advance in a particular field and describing a sufficient body of work to support that claim; if so, it will be sent out for peer review. The professional and academic editors then together make a decision based on the reviewers' comments. There are several types of decision possible:

  • Accept the manuscript as submitted
  • Accept it with minor revision
  • Invite the authors to submit a major revision of the manuscript before a final decision is reached
  • Reject, typically because it does not fit the criteria outlined above of originality, importance to the field, cross-discipline interest, or sound methodology

When differences of opinion occur between reviewers, the professional editor and the academic editor weigh all comments and arrive at a balanced decision based on all comments. To assist in this process, the reviewer should provide the editors with as much information as possible. A review that clearly outlines reasons both for and against publication is therefore of as much, or even more, value as one that makes a direct recommendation.

If reviewers appear to disagree fundamentally, the editors may choose to share all the reviews with each of the reviewers and by this means elicit additional comment that may help the editors to make a decision. The academic and professional editors then assess the recommendations and comments of the reviewers alongside comments by the authors and material that may not have been made available to those reviewers.

When a paper has been revised in response to comments by reviewers or when authors feel their argument has been misconstrued in review, we ask reviewers to offer additional comments on the revised or contested manuscript. We request that reviewers make themselves available to provide such follow-up advice. We are nevertheless aware that reviewers do not wish to be involved in extended discussions over papers, and we keep such consultations to a minimum while still allowing authors a fair hearing.

4. Reviewer Selection

We decide on reviewers for a particular manuscript based on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations of authors and academic editors, and the professional editor's own knowledge of a reviewer.

As part of our editorial procedure, we regularly confer with potential reviewers before sending them manuscripts to review. Reviewers should bear in mind that even these initial messages or conversations contain confidential information.

5. Writing the Review

The purpose of the review is to provide the academic and professional editors with an expert opinion regarding the quality of the manuscript under consideration, and should also supply authors with explicit feedback on how to improve their papers so that they will be acceptable for publication in PLOS Medicine. In the interests of complete transparency we do not allow confidential comments for the editors. Please therefore assume that all the comments you make will be transmitted to the authors. The best possible review would answer the following questions:

  • What are the main claims of the paper and how important are they?
  • Are these claims novel? If not, please specify papers that weaken the claims to the originality of this one.
  • Are the claims properly placed in the context of the previous literature?
  • Do the results support the claims? If not, what other evidence is required?
  • If a protocol is provided, for example for a randomized controlled trial, are there any important deviations from it? If so, have the authors explained adequately why the deviations occurred?
  • Would any other experiments or additional information improve the paper? How much better would the paper be if this extra work was done, and how difficult would such work be to do, or to provide?
  • Is this paper outstanding in its discipline? (For example, would you like to see this work presented in a seminar at your hospital or university? Do you feel these results need to be incorporated in your next general lecture on the subject?) If yes, what makes it outstanding? If not, why not?
  • Who would find this paper of interest? Why?
  • If the paper is considered unsuitable for publication in its present form, does the study itself show sufficient enough potential that the authors should be encouraged to resubmit a revised version?

Please note: At this time we cannot accept reviews submitted as documents if they were created in Microsoft Office 2007, even if "saved down" to the 2003 version. Major changes made in Word 2007, relative to earlier versions of Word, are incompatible with the established workflow processes of many publishers (e.g. the handling of mathematical equations). PLOS is actively seeking solutions to this problem. If you use Word 2007 please paste your review into the reviewer form or e-mail the text of the review to plosmedicine [at] plos.org.

If you intend to provide a marked up copy of your manuscript as part of your review, you can do so by uploading the file to the review form. However, we prefer to have these marked-up files in PDF format rather than Word to ensure that the comments and annotations can be easily forwarded to the author. Please remember to anonymize your comments.

6. Other Questions for Consideration

In the case of manuscripts deemed worthy of consideration, we would appreciate additional advice from the reviewer on the following:

  • Is the manuscript clearly enough written so that it is understandable to non-specialists? If not, how could it be improved? (Please concentrate on matters of organization and content and not on grammatical or spelling errors that will be corrected by our copyeditor after acceptance.)
  • Have the authors provided adequate proof for their claims without overselling them?
  • Have the authors cited the previous literature appropriately?
  • Does the paper offer enough details of its methodology that its experiments or its analyses could be reproduced?
  • PLOS Medicine encourages authors to publish detailed methods as supporting information online. Do any particular methods used in the manuscript warrant such publication?

7. Peer Review for Magazine articles

The best possible review of an article in the PLOS Medicine Magazine section would consider a different set of questions:

Relevance and interest

  • Is the article relevant and of interest to a general international medical audience?
  • Does it address a health topic that matters on a global scale? Will it be relevant to readers in both high and low income countries?

Impact

  • Do you think this article will have an impact—upon clinicians, researchers, health policymakers, or the broader public? Will it be widely read, disseminated, and cited? Could it help to improve public and/or global health? Will health reporters find it of interest?

Content

  • Does the article contain any inaccurate information? Are the authors' claims evidence-based?
  • Have the authors missed out anything important—including important research findings—on the topic they're writing about? Please provide details of anything important that is missing.

Originality

  • Does this article contain enough new information to warrant publication? Does it take the discussion and debate on this topic in a novel direction?

Presentation

  • Is the article well written, clear, and easy for a non-specialist—or for someone whose first language is not English—to understand?
  • Are there any specific sections that do not make sense?
  • If tables and figures have been included, do they help the reader, or are they unnecessary? Could they be improved? Do you have suggestions for additional items (summary boxes, graphics etc.)?

8. Confidentiality

The review process is strictly confidential and should be treated as such by reviewers. Because the author may have chosen to exclude some people from this process, no one not directly involved with the manuscript, including colleagues or other experts in the field, should be consulted by the reviewer unless such consultations have first been discussed with the professional editor.

9. Timely Review

PLOS Medicine believes that an efficient editorial process that results in timely publication provides a valuable service both to authors and to the community at large. We therefore request that reviewers respond promptly, usually within 14 days of receipt of a manuscript. If reviewers need more time, we request that they contact us promptly so that we can keep the authors informed and, if necessary, assign alternate reviewers.

10. Anonymity

PLOS Medicine encourages open (non-anonymous) peer-review. As a default, we will pass a reviewer's name on to the authors along with the comments. However, if reviewers do not wish to have their name revealed, we will honor that request. We discourage any attempt on the part of authors to discover the identity of any reviewer or to contact this person directly. We encourage the reviewers to adopt the same policy. The academic editor is also anonymous to authors and reviewers unless and until a manuscript is accepted for publication. The academic editor's name is then indicated in the published article.

11. Editing Reviewers' Reports

The editors and PLOS staff do not edit any comments made by reviewers unless the language is deemed inappropriate for professional communication or the comments contain information considered confidential. In their comments to authors, reviewers are encouraged to be honest but not offensive in their language. On the other hand, authors should not confuse frank and perhaps even robust language with unfair criticism.

In the interests of complete transparency we do not allow confidential comments for the editors. Reviewers should therefore assume that all the comments you make will be transmitted to the authors.

12. Competing Interests

As far as possible we respect requests by authors to exclude reviewers whom they consider to be unsuitable. We also, as much as possible, try to rule out those reviewers who may have an obvious competing interest, such as those who may have been collaborators on other projects with the authors of the manuscript under review, those who may be direct competitors, those who may have a known history of antipathy with the author(s), or those who might profit financially from the work. Because it is not possible for all such competing interests to be known by a particular editor, we request that reviewers who recognize a potential competing interest inform the editors or journal staff and recuse themselves if they feel that are unable to offer an impartial review.

Click here for more general information on PLOS's policy regarding competing interests. When submitting your review you must indicate whether or not you have any competing interests.

On occasion, reviewers may be asked to offer their opinion on a manuscript that they may have reviewed for some other journal. This is not in itself a competing interest. That two journals have identified the same person as especially well qualified to judge the manuscript under consideration does not in any way decrease the validity of that opinion and may perhaps even enhance it.

13. Feedback to Reviewers

We send reviewers' comments along with the decision letter to all reviewers of that manuscript. If reviewers have identified themselves, this information will be passed on to other reviewers. Reviewers who may have offered an opinion not in accordance with the final decision should not feel that their recommendation was not duly considered or their service not properly appreciated. Experts often disagree, and it is the job of the editorial team to make a final publication decision.

14. Sharing reviews with other PLOS Journals

PLOS publishes several journals. Occasionally, editors recommend after peer review that a particular article is more suitable for another PLOS journal. If the authors choose to pursue that option, we transfer the manuscript and the reviews to the other journal. We expect that reviewers for any PLOS journal are willing to have their reviews considered by the editors of another PLOS journal.

15. Thank You to Previous Reviewers

We would like to show our appreciation for the reviewers and academic editors who have provided support and input for the journal since it launched in October 2004. Thanks to the reviewers and academic editors who provided support in reviewing or editing papers in 2010. Thanks also to those who did the same in 2009, 2008, and before January 2007.