Frontiers Collaborative Peer Review: criteria to accept and reject manuscripts

— By Gearóid Ó Faoleán, Frontiers (Last update: 5 December 2018)

Frontiers’ founding principle is to empower researchers in the publishing process. We distribute editorial responsibility to our Editorial Boards, to which we appoint leading experts according to strict criteria of excellence.

We trust that these experts can take acceptance and rejection decisions, and can certify the rigor of the research presented in the articles with their names. Hence the distributed power in Frontiers comes with responsibility, accountability and recognition of services to the community.

The Frontiers Collaborative Review is designed to ensure a constructive interaction between authors, reviewers and editors, and improve the manuscript as needed. The review mandate is focused on evaluating the validity, rigor and correctness of the presented work. Our Editorial Boards determine the suitability and quality of scientific and academic content within each discipline, while Frontiers policies ensure that the consistency of Frontiers model is maintained across all of our publications.

How are decisions on manuscripts made at Frontiers?

Our Associate Editors are at the core of the decision process and responsible for overseeing the review process. After making an initial assessment to ensure a manuscript fits within the scope of the specialty and is scientifically robust, they have the responsibility for inviting reviewers — members of our standing Review Editorial Board or external experts. Associate Editors then assess the review reports and mediate during the collaborative review process.

Once the handling Editor has chosen the reviewers, they in turn have considerable autonomy during the review process. Reviewers can interact with the authors in the custom-built discussion forum, requesting clarifications and additions as well as questioning aspects of the manuscript.

Reviewers can also directly contact the handling Editor or editorial office to raise concerns as needed. To finalize their involvement with the peer review of a manuscript, reviewers can endorse the manuscript for publication, withdraw from the process or recommend the manuscript for rejection to the handling Editor.

Accepting a manuscript

At Frontiers, Associate Editors can accept manuscripts for full-length articles when a minimum of two reviewers have endorsed the submission for publication; this requirement is actually hard-coded into the system.

Once the interactive review forum is activated, reviewers can at any time endorse the manuscript for publication if they are satisfied with the manuscript. With this, they agree to be named on the published article, publicly validating its content.

The criteria for acceptance are:

  • Valid research question and hypothesis

  • Correct methodology including study design, data collection and analysis

  • Sufficiently referenced and grounded in existing literature

  • Editorial and ethical policies were adhered to

  • Clear presentation and adequate language level

Withdrawing from review

Further, at any stage of the review, reviewers can withdraw from the process, thereby remaining anonymous to the authors. Their reports remain visible in the collaborative review forum, though the discussion is closed. When withdrawing, reviewers can select one of the following reasons:

  • I do not have the time right now

  • There is a conflict of interest

  • I do not want to be named on the final publication if accepted

  • Alternative reason with an accompanying text-box allowing for clarification

Rejecting a manuscript

At any stage of the review process, reviewers can recommend a manuscript for rejection. They then choose from one of the following reasons:

  • The manuscript contains fundamental errors that cannot be rectified through author revisions

  • There are concerns about ethical issues in the manuscript that cannot be rectified through author revisions

  • The authors are unwilling or unable to address my concerns sufficiently to make this manuscript suitable for publication

  • Other, with an accompanying text-box allowing for clarification

Reviewers often recommend rejection if their concerns cannot be sufficiently addressed by the authors or if they deem the article overall of not sufficient quality. Ethical issues include appropriation of the ideas from already published work, or deceptive practices during research on the part of authors. The “Other” option allows for reviewers to recommend rejection for reasons including manuscripts being out of scope, unsupported conclusions, and the singling out of persons or organizations for attack. Such content may be considered for retraction if passed through peer review.

Reviewers retain their anonymity if the article is rejected. Only reviewers who have endorsed a manuscript are named on publications. The handling Editor is alerted whenever a reviewer withdraws or recommends rejection, while the authors see that a reviewer has withdrawn and is now inactive.

Associate Editors can recommend rejection of the manuscript to the Speciality Chief Editor either before initiating peer review or after the authors had a first chance of a rebuttal to the reviewer reports when the interactive review forum is activated. Chief Editors are asked to verify that the rejection recommendation is valid and meets one of the criteria listed above.

The Frontiers Research Integrity Team is tasked with pre-screening submissions and they directly reject manuscripts that fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Quality does not meet the standards of the academic discipline

  2. Plagiarism

  3. Ethical concerns

The Research Integrity Team thereby supports our Associate and Chief Editors in ensuring the quality of the articles.

With this peer-review model in place, Frontiers has published 35,000 articles since January 2016. In the same period, Frontiers Editors and our internal Research Integrity Team together have rejected over 15,500 manuscripts to uphold the quality standards of Frontiers journals.

Our model works: Frontiers journals are consistently ranked among the highest cited journals in their academic disciplines both in the 2016 Journal Citations Report (Clarivate Analytics, 2017) and in the CiteScore 2016 edition (Scopus, Elsevier).