Reviewer guidelines for IOP journals

At IOP Publishing our commitment is to rigorous and impartial peer review, and high quality standards. These guidelines describe the general reviewer requirements for articles submitted to IOP Publishing’s own journals and many of the journals published on behalf of its partner organisations.

Download these guidelines as a PDF

Step by step guide

1

Becoming a journal reviewer

Do you want to become a reviewer for IOP journals? Find out what we’re looking for and how to volunteer here.

If you would like to be a reviewer or recommend a colleague as a reviewer, we would love to hear from you (please send your CV by email to the relevant journal email address). Nominations are approved by the Editor, who carefully monitors our pool of reviewers. The Editor will check to make sure you have enough experience in the right subject areas for the journal.

There are no specific qualifications needed to be a reviewer, but most reviewers will have a PhD. You certainly need to be able to prove you know the field of study well enough to be able to assess the novelty, quality, impact and importance of the research.

If you have never been a reviewer before, we strongly recommend you look at a free course on becoming a peer reviewer, offered by our partner Publons.

IOP Publishing (IOP) is committed to recognizing and rewarding peer review. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy as a reviewer:

Please note we do not currently offer financial payment to our reviewers.

IOP journals operate the single-blind review process, in which referees know the identity of the authors but authors do not know the identity of the referees. While all our journals operate the single-blind review process, our ‘Express’ journals (Materials Research Express, Plasma Research Express and Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express) also offer a double-blind peer review option. Authors who choose the double-blind option on submission to these journals remain anonymous to the referees throughout the review process. Authors are responsible for anonymizing their manuscript before submitting their paper. A checklist is available to help authors with this process.

None of our journals conduct any form of open peer review (in which the identity of the reviewer is revealed, the peer review contents are made publicly available or anyone interested in reviewing the article can do so post-publication).

As a reviewer for IOP journals, you will be expected to complete your review within 7–28 days, depending on the journal and type of article you are reviewing. When this is not possible, we will consider requests for extensions where appropriate. You will be expected to comment on multiple aspects of the paper, most commonly scientific rigour, novelty, quality, impact and importance. More information on how to complete a review is given in the next section.

We understand you are busy and we try not to send anyone too many tasks. You can always decline any request you are sent. If you are a Board Member or on an Advisory Panel for one of our journals you may receive requests more frequently.

Research papers submitted for publication in IOP journals are most commonly sent to two independent referees. Referees are selected from our reviewer database and we try to find the best combination of scientific expertise and referee experience for each paper. It’s really important for reviewers to keep their research interests up to date on ScholarOne, so we only send them papers that are in the right subject areas.

Authors are welcome to suggest referees for their paper if they wish but this is not required. In the interests of impartiality, if an author-suggested reviewer is used then we will complement this with a review from a second referee chosen by the journal from the general referee pool.

How to update your Scholar One account

Our guidelines are applicable to the journals listed below. For guidelines specific to other partner journals, including the American Astronomical Society titles, please consult those journals’ respective homepages. Journal homepages can be accessed from here.

We manage all our submissions and peer review through a web-based system called ScholarOne. It is really easy to set up your account and keep it up to date. Watch this video to find out how.

How to create an account on ScholarOne

2

Responding to an invitation to review a journal article

If you are chosen to be a reviewer, you will receive an email invitation from the journal. The email will include:

  • The manuscript title
  • Abstract
  • Names of the authors (if the journal is single-blind)
  • A link to accept the invitation
  • A link to decline the invitation
  • A deadline for submitting your report.

If anything is unclear, ask the journal to explain or give you more information.

When you receive a referee request, please consider the following key factors:

Do you know the field well enough to be able to assess the scientific rigour, novelty, quality and importance of the research?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, then you should decline the task and tell the journal that this is not your area of expertise (in which case, if you know of another expert in the field, then please suggest them to us when you decline). If you are an expert in only part of the paper, you can still write a report and send it to the journal. However, you must make it clear which parts you are not able to assess.

Can you write your report by the deadline in the invitation email? Some reports take longer than others, depending on how complex the work is. The authors will want a decision quickly, so you should let the journal know as soon as possible if you can or cannot report.

You can ask for more time if you need it, but give the journal a realistic timeframe for preparing your report. You can decline a request if you are already working on several referee tasks. In that case, it is very helpful if you can suggest alternative referees.

If you are unavailable for a period of time (months), or would like to avoid receiving any more review requests, please send this information with your decline response. We will update your contact record as appropriate.

Conflicts of interest

To uphold impartiality, you should consider any potential conflict of interest before agreeing to review and should contact the editorial office in the following instances:

  • You are in direct competition with the authors
  • You are a co-worker or collaborator with one of the authors
  • You are in a position to exploit the authors’ work (commercially or otherwise)
  • You are in a position which prevents you from giving an objective opinion of the work.

Minor conflicts do not disqualify you from reporting on an article, but will be taken into account when considering the referees’ recommendations. Major conflicts of interest (especially relating to a financial commercial interest >£5000/year) do disqualify you. You should act within the spirit of the Nolan principles of public life.

If you are unable to act as a referee due to a conflict of interest, we will select an alternative referee.

Anonymity and confidentiality

Referee names are kept strictly confidential. Referee identities may only be disclosed to journal Editorial Board members, who are also instructed to maintain confidentiality. You should not disclose your identity to the authors, including sending reports directly to the authors.

We also ask that you do not discuss the papers you have reviewed with colleagues unless they have been published.

For more information on ethics please read our ethical policy.

When you click on the ‘Agree’ link in the original invitation email you will automatically receive another email. This will contain a direct link to view online the full PDF of the manuscript and the referee report form, with a deadline for submitting your report. You can also view the PDF and report form by logging in to the journal’s ScholarOne site and going to your Referee Centre. Please remember, any information you are sent about the article is confidential, and should not be shared or discussed with others.

If you click one of the ‘Decline’ links in the invitation email, this response will be sent to the editorial team and we will not contact you again about this paper. If you are unable to review, we would be grateful if you would suggest an alternative referee.

3

Assessing an article

If you accept an invitation to be a reviewer, make sure you allow plenty of time to read the paper and prepare your report. Some journals have their own guidelines for how you should construct your reviewer’s report. These will be provided in a link from the invitation email. The following guidelines are examples of things you may be asked to consider.

Scientific rigor

  • Is this paper understandable?
  • Is the paper scientifically correct and robust
  • Are the mathematics or statistics correct?
  • Has the author made reference to the most recent and most appropriate work?
  • Are the scientific arguments and interpretation accurate and consistent with the results presented?

Significance

  • What impact do you think this paper will have on the field and surrounding areas?
  • How timely is this paper?
  • Why should this work be published?

Originality

  • Is the work relevant and novel?
  • Have any parts of the manuscript been published before?
  • Does it add significantly to results that are already published?
  • Is this paper likely to be cited in future?

Ethics

Please contact us if you suspect any ethical wrongdoing related to the paper, including but not limited to:

  • Plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Parallel submission
  • Fabrication of results
  • Undeclared conflict of interest
  • Inaccurate authorship declarations
  • Unnecessary self-citations.

Presentation

  • Is the title adequate and appropriate?
  • Is the paper well written and the work clearly communicated? Please note we will edit upon acceptance and correct any grammatical or typographical errors.
  • Does the abstract contain the essential information about the paper? Is it complete by itself and suitable for direct inclusion in an abstracting service?
  • Can the paper be shortened without detriment to the content? Are the text and mathematics brief but still clear? If you recommend shortening, please suggest what could be omitted.
  • Are diagrams and tables clear and essential, and captions informative?
  • Does the paper contain a carefully written conclusion, summarizing what has been learned and why it is interesting and useful?

What you do not need to check for

Referees are not expected to correct spelling, grammar or use-of-English mistakes, as most journals have copy editors who can correct minor problems with the language. However, if the paper is written so poorly that you cannot clearly understand what the authors mean, or there are so many errors that reading the paper becomes very difficult, then that should be reported back to the journal.

We all have implicit biases based on our background and experiences. They can cause us to take shortcuts in decision making which can serve us well and save us time, but often they are wrong and end in unfair assessments.

During the peer review process the following biases can influence how you assess a paper and what conclusion you come to:

  • Gender bias
  • Bias for or against authors from a geographical area
  • Language bias, if a paper is translated poorly
  • Bias for or against authors from specific institutions

We can all address our implicit biases through self-awareness. You can minimise the influence of your implicit biases during the peer review process:

  • Be aware that you have implicit biases that may affect your decision making”
  • Treat the paper as if you did not know the authors’ names and institutions
  • Focus on facts rather than feelings
  • Slow down your decision making
  • Consider and reconsider the reasons for your conclusions.

We highly recommend the Publons Academy for any reviewers keen to improve their skills. This is a free and practical peer review training course for early career researchers, which has a specific module related to author and reviewer biases, conflicts of interest and misconduct.

4

Writing your report and making a recommendation

If you accept an invitation to be a reviewer, make sure you allow plenty of time to read the paper and prepare your report. You will be presented with a form to complete online, which will usually cover the following (some journals may have slightly different or additional questions):

When reviewing for an IOP journal, you will typically be asked to score the article on a number of different aspects. Individual journal guidelines may vary, so do check the journal-specific guidance here for more information. You will usually be asked to give a score between 1 and 10 (1 = very poor, 10 = excellent). The aspects you may be asked to comment on include:

Originality:
a measure of the novelty of the ideas and techniques reported in the manuscript compared to the existing literature. Articles presenting little or no new ideas or techniques should be given a low rating (1–3). Ideas or techniques that are not new but are approached in an original way should be given a medium rating (4–6). Completely original ideas, approaches to problems or experimental techniques should be given a high rating (7–10).
Scientific rigour:
a measure of how well the experiment has been carried out; whether all necessary details of the method and results are presented in a way that they can be reproduced; and whether the results have been appropriately analysed and discussed. (This includes the testability of any theoretical predictions or modelling.)
Significance:
a measure of the likely impact of the results presented within the article’s field. If the article presents trivial or incremental results, it should be given a low rating (1–3). Articles that do not advance the field significantly but have archival value should be given a medium rating (4–6). Articles that provide significant new insight or make an important advance in the field should be given a high rating (7–10).
Clarity:
a measure of the quality of writing within the article and how well the authors have conveyed the information. Articles written in very poor or broken English, that are very difficult to follow or completely unintelligible should be given a low rating (1–3). Articles that are understandable, but would still need significant language editing should be given a medium rating (4–6). Articles that are mostly clear and complete and would only require minimal editing should be given a high rating (7–10).

Please use this section of the report form to record any confidential comments intended for the Editor only.

Most of your report should go in this section. Please remember to use appropriate language in your comments for the author.

Structure
Start your report by briefly summarizing the purpose and results of the paper. This shows the authors and editors of the journal that you have read and understood the work. The body of your report should concentrate on the quality of the article. It can be helpful for the author if you number your points. You should comment on the strengths of the paper as well as what could be improved. Please provide full references to earlier work if you believe the research does not add anything new.
Length
Reviewers are not required to give a detailed summary of the paper. However, your report should be substantial and thorough. You should explain your thinking and give the author and editors enough reasoning to support your recommendation. If you are requesting the author to revise the article, be clear about what is needed to bring the article up to the required quality standards for publication.

Occasionally we receive very short referee reports that do not provide evidence to support the recommendation. On receipt of such reports we may contact the referee to request some additional comments, both to assist us with assessment and to assist the author with any potential revision.

Tone
Your report should be polite, objective and constructive. You should not make any personal comments. Think about what kind of report you would like to receive.

You may also upload a file containing your comments.

You will be asked to give a recommendation. The Editor will take into account your recommendation along with those provided by any other reviewers. Your recommendation should be either:

  • Accept
  • Amendments required before acceptance
  • Major revision and re-submission recommended (with these substantial revisions, you expect that the article would make a significant contribution to the literature)
  • Reject (average work that adds little new knowledge to the field)
  • Reject (contains basic errors and faulty judgements).

Make sure you explain the recommendation you have made in your report. You may see fewer recommendation options if you are reviewing a revised manuscript.

5

Submitting your report

To submit your report, either click the link in the email you received with the paper attached, or log into your account on ScholarOne. If you have forgotten your log in details, click ‘Reset Password’ on the log in page. This video will take you through the stages of submitting your report.

How to submit your report on ScholarOne

6

Reviewing a revised article

Depending on your report and the author’s response, we may also ask you to review the revised manuscript.

This is normally a quicker process than reviewing an original manuscript. The deadline for your comments will be between five and 21 days, depending on the journal. Again, if you need an extension please get in touch with the editorial office.

When reviewing a revised manuscript, you are checking that the revisions are satisfactory. You will receive a copy of the revised manuscript as well as the author’s response to the reviewers’ reports.

It is generally not appropriate to request additional changes (not mentioned in your original report) at this stage.

If the authors fail to answer your criticisms, please check the ‘Unsatisfactory Revision’ box on the report form and describe the areas that were not addressed in the revision in your comments.

You will be invited to update the original quality assessment scores you provided with your original review. If you feel the paper has been improved, your scores should increase.

You will be asked to give a recommendation. The Editor will take into account your recommendation along with those provided by any other reviewers. Your recommendation should be either:

  • Accept
  • Amendments required before acceptance
  • Major revision and re-submission recommended (with these substantial revisions, you expect that the article would make a significant contribution to the literature)
  • Reject (average work that adds little new knowledge to the field)
  • Reject (contains basic errors and faulty judgements).

Make sure you explain the recommendation you have made in your report. You may see fewer recommendation options if you are reviewing a revised manuscript.

7

After you've reviewed

We recognize that reviewing is a voluntary activity and we are very grateful for your assistance in maintaining the high standards of our journals. As such, we have launched a number of initiatives to reward and recognize our reviewers.

Your report, along with those of any other reviewers, will be read by the journal editors who will make a decision on how to proceed. If the reviewer reports agree, the decision will be made to either:

  • Accept the manuscript without any further changes
  • Reject the paper
  • Ask the authors to revise the paper further.

If the reviewer reports do not agree, the journal may consult an adjudicator. An adjudicator is a senior reviewer or Editorial Board member. They are asked to provide an opinion on both the article and reviewer reports. If an Editorial Board member is used, they may be told the names of the reviewers to help them make their decisions. However, the authors will still only see anonymous reports. The adjudicator may agree or disagree with your assessment of the article.

All reviewers of a paper are informed when the editor makes their decision, and you will also be able to see the anonymous reports of any other reviewers at this stage. If the author is asked to make further revisions, you may be asked to review the revisions when they come in (see ‘Reviewing a revised article’).

IOP Publishing (IOP) has partnered with Publons, a free service which enables you to track, verify and showcase your peer review contributions. This demonstrates your contribution to scholarly communication beyond authorship. You can seamlessly have your reviewer records updated in Publons with the click of a button. You gain recognition even if the manuscript is never published, and only the name of the journal and the year of the review will be displayed, so anonymity is completely protected. To find out more about Publons and join over 75,000 other experts committed to reviving peer review, see here or tick the Publons box when you next review for an IOP journal.

  • Track your reviews across different journals and publishers
  • Your profile updates automatically once you have opted in
  • Get notified when articles you have reviewed are published
  • Compare your reviewing behaviour with others
  • Track citations and altmetric scores of articles you’ve reviewed
  • Sync your profile with your ORCID ID
  • Use your Publons record as support for a green card application

What happens if I opt in to Publons when I’m doing a review for one of your journals?

By selecting “Yes” you are opting in to the Publons service and data about this review will be transferred to Publons. By default, the content of the review will not be publicly displayed, and only the year of the review and the journal title will be shown on reviewer profiles. You may edit what is displayed for any review or opt out of the service at any time.

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To help recognize the vital contribution our referees make to the publishing process, IOP has introduced a reward scheme based on open access discounts. When you review an article you may claim a 10% credit towards the cost of publishing an article in the same journal on a gold open access basis. A referee reward credit will be given for every review you complete, subject to terms and conditions.

IOP is proud to recognize excellence in reviewing, and each year our journal editorial teams select the best reviewers of the year based on the quality, quantity and timeliness of their reviews.

Each journal chooses one person to receive the Reviewer of the Year Award, and selects a number of other excellent reviewers to receive Outstanding Reviewer awards.

2017 winners

2016 winners

When you submit your report to an IOP journal, you will be invited to complete a short survey about your experience. We are always looking to improve our services and would love to hear from your about how we can continue to support our reviewers. You can also contact the editorial office with any feedback you have about reviewing for us.