Today PLOS ONE launches a new peer review form. While this might not sound like much of an announcement, the fact that our reviewer board currently contains over 400,000 scientists, and grows by the hour, means that an awful lot of people will see this form over the coming months!
The purpose of the form is to better direct and streamline the review process by focusing on our specific publication criteria. The job of the PLOS ONE reviewer is not to decide whether the study represents a significant advance to the field, or whether additional experiments need to be performed to increase the impact, or whether it is suitable for a broad interest journal. The reviewer must simply ascertain whether the study has been performed correctly, and whether the data support the conclusions. So that’s what we ask reviewers in the form. The form also addresses some of our other criteria, like whether the manuscript adheres to data sharing standards and whether the manuscript is written in intelligible standard English. By limiting the focus of the reviewers in this way, we hope to reduce the burden that many reviewers feel, and (hopefully) speed up the time it takes to review.
We know that academics spend an enormous amount of time reviewing papers. But while it increases the workload of already busy people, the majority would agree that it is a vital part of the scientific process, and a necessary part of the job. The hardest part of a traditional review is making the recommendation on whether the study represents a significant enough advance to meet the journal’s criteria for acceptance, and this is the thing that most holds up the evaluation of manuscripts. Remove that part, and review should be quicker, less cumbersome and easier – but, and here’s the kicker, will have no discernible effect on the literature as a whole. Papers that are ‘right’ will always be published somewhere, but it may take a year to find that place due to the endless rejection cycle of most journals. So the innovation of PLOS ONE was to remove this step, and it was immensely successful. Now all we need to do is remind people of this fact when they submit their review. The form aims to do just that, and we believe it takes us a step closer to the ideal of publishing ‘right’ studies with minimal fuss and maximal efficiency.
We haven’t created too many check boxes, drop-down menus or word limits. There are just four required questions about whether the submission meets our criteria, and plenty of flexibility to let reviewers include specific comments as needed. You can read more about the specifics of the form here, and please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or feedback.