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Making an Editorial Decision


Editors are responsible for making manuscript decisions based upon reviewer reports and their own reading of the manuscript. In the majority of cases, at least two reports will be received which are broadly in agreement, making it possible to assess reviewer comments easily and reach a straightforward decision. For decisions made after peer review, Editors are expected to provide feedback for authors within the decision letter explaining the reasons for the decision and, revision is offered, anything in particular the authors should focus on.

This webinar provides a guide to making a decision based on reviewer reports and your own reading of the manuscript. Note that this is not specific for BMC Biology, though the general rules should be the same.

Manuscript Transfers

Manuscripts that have been rejected from BMC Biology, either before or after peer review, can be transferred to another BMC journal. We try to offer transfers for all papers that are not clearly unsound, and to provide suggestions to authors in our decision letters of what we feel are the most appropriate journals by scope. 

Whilst you are welcome to suggest journals as transfer destinations, the In-House Editors will generally handle the proposing of transfers, once you have submitted your decision - so please do not worry about this step.

Transfers can save authors time in finding a suitable home for their research, as their manuscript files can be automatically transferred with no formatting required. Peer review reports can also be carried across, potentially reducing the need for re-review. Our Transfer Desk service offers guidance and support to authors through the process. It's the author's choice whether to take up an offer of a transfer, and there's no guarantee that the paper would be accepted or even sent for review at the destination journal. See here for more information.

When Should I Reject a Manuscript?

When rejecting a manuscript, whether before or after peer review, we consider it important to provide authors with reasons for rejection and feedback that can be used to improve their work in the future.

Rejections before Peer-review

If the paper doesn't meet our scope or threshold to be sent for review, we aim to offer a transfer to another BMC journal - typically to a subject-specific journal of the BMC series (Pre-review reject - Suggest Transfer). For papers that seem clearly unsuitable for publication in any journal, we do not offer a transfer (Pre-review reject - No Transfer).

Rejections after Peer-review

If the paper is potentially interesting, but there are concerns regarding the soundness of the study requiring significant revisions, and it is unclear if these could be addressed in a reasonable time frame, the manuscript should be rejected but with the possibility to resubmit (Post-review reject - Encourage Resubmission)

If the paper seems broadly sound but does not go far enough to reach our threshold, and this cannot be readily addressed with further experiments, the manuscript should be rejected and a transfer suggested to another BMC journal (Post-review reject - Suggest Transfer).

If there are concerns regarding the soundness of the study that cannot be addressed or revisions would amount to an entirely new study, the manuscript should be rejected without an invitation to resubmit (Post-review reject - No Transfer or Resubmission).

When Should I Request Revisions?

You should request a revision if you feel the manuscript is likely to be acceptable for publication after changes and modifications. This can include additional experimental work. The authors will be sent the comments of the reviewers and Editor and asked to revise accordingly.

We offer two types of revision: 

Minor Revisions (also called "AiP" - Accept in Principle): typically, the revisions required are adjustments to the wording, reference list, or to the presentation of data for clarification, provided that these are not required to enable the validity of the main conclusion(s) to be assessed. 

Major Revisions: further experimental work is needed to shore up or validate the key conclusions in the paper, perhaps to rule out alternative explanations or add controls; or to extend the paper to build on interesting-but-preliminary findings.

Which Reviewer Requests are Acceptable?

When contacting authors, you are encouraged to write a brief paragraph mentioning anything you would particularly like them to focus on when revising their manuscript.

Further experiments may be requested to support the claims in the manuscript or extend the paper, but although these may be ideal, they may not be essential for our journal. If additional data are requested by the reviewers, please state clearly in your summary which points and experiments are essential to address. A manuscript could be suitable for publication in BMC Biology even if it doesn’t reach the ‘gold standard’ of the field, especially if authors can discuss the limitations of their work as an alternative. It may be possible for authors to avoid over-interpreting their results and to highlight where further work is needed rather than perform additional experiments.

Who Checks Author Revisions?

If you recommend revisions on a manuscript you will be notified once the revised manuscript is resubmitted. At that stage, you should decide whether the manuscript may be accepted without re-review or whether you need further advice from the original reviewers.

If you feel that re-review is required, it can save time to ask original reviewers to feedback on any specific points you are unsure about.

How Many Revisions Should be Allowed?

We would normally allow authors to make only two rounds of revision to avoid a lengthy peer-review process, which can become frustrating for authors and reviewers alike. 

If further revisions would not make the manuscript acceptable, it should simply be rejected.

What if a Decision is not Straightforward?

When reviewers disagree in their assessment of the work, you may be able to reach a decision without seeking further advice by considering the expertise of the reviewers. We ask that you read the concerns that reviewers raise and be aware that one reviewer may highlight an issue not raised by another due to differing expertise in a particular subject matter.

It is not unusual to be able to reach a straightforward decision (even if reviewers have opposing views) by taking into account your own knowledge of the subject area and interpretation of the manuscript, together with the expertise of the reviewers. However, if you are still unsure how to proceed please contact our In-House Editor for further guidance. It may be necessary to seek further advice from an independent third reviewer or request advice from one of our senior Editorial Board members.

If the authors have already revised in response to initial reviews, it is preferable to seek further advice on specific points of disagreement only, rather than seeking a whole new report from an independent third reviewer.

In practice, the difference between the decision terms above - for example whether to suggest Major Revisions or to Reject the paper - may not be clear-cut. We tend to err on the side of giving papers a chance in Revision, rather than Rejection, but please reach out to the In-House Editor if you are unsure of the appropriate decision.

What if there are Ethical Concerns?

Though our in-house team of Editors checks for any Ethical concerns prior to assigning manuscripts to the External Board Members, it is possible that reviewers may spot some additional concerns and raise those in their reviews. If there are any concerns with regard to the ethical framework of the research (such as a lack of participant consent, lack of ethical approval for the work, or concerns that the severity of the experiments carried out is not justified by the value of the knowledge gained) or possible research or author misconduct, please raise these with your journal contact as soon as possible and before making your editorial decision. 

What if there are Language Concerns?

We aim to support authors who may struggle to get good results published because their written English or the presentation of their results is not of a sufficient standard. We do not, therefore, encourage rejection of a manuscript on the basis of the standard of English alone, unless it is of very poor quality or the authors have had an opportunity to improve the manuscript but have not met the required standard.  At the same time, Editors and reviewers should not be expected to copy edit the language themselves. Instead, we recommend that Editors advise authors to make improvements to the English language as part of their revisions or before sending for review, if necessary. Please also note that if manuscript is accepted, level 1 copy edit is automatically provided by our Production team on all manuscripts.  

To assist authors in addressing language concerns, we have collated free resources and advice on how to prepare the language in their manuscript. Authors can also use any reputable English language editing service, such as those provided by our affiliates Nature Research Editing Service and American Journal Experts. BMC authors are entitled to a 10% discount on their first submission to either of these services. Please note that the use of an editing service is at the author's own expense, and is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of publication.