Most readers are by now familiar with the core principle behind PLOS ONE: to publish all papers that are scientifically and technically sound, regardless of their perceived impact or importance. Another publication criterion that has received far less attention until recently is our commitment to the quality and completeness of reporting.
PLOS ONE considers reporting quality to be of importance in two main areas: first in relation to completeness of authors’ descriptions of study methods and results, and second in assuring readers of the ethical basis underlying the work. The rationale for ensuring high standards of reporting and ethical oversight is aligned with our core mission to facilitate the re-use of open-access research; if studies aren’t reported appropriately, or don’t have the necessary ethical oversight, it is much more difficult for others to replicate the work or incorporate the data as part of a larger study.
The natural follow-up question might be: how do we as a journal maintain these standards? Here, we’d like to outline briefly our standards, the reasons for them, and the process for ensuring that authors adhere to them. By doing this, we hope to shed light on some of our internal processes, both for the journal’s community, as well as for interested readers that appreciate sound, well-done science as much as we do.
PLOS ONE is a large, international, open-access scientific journal that considers all manuscripts reporting the results of primary scientific research. Day to day, the journal receives many types of studies, including experimental and observational work on animal and human populations, as well as a range of computational and theoretical work. These are submitted by researchers around the world who are not necessarily bound by common standards of reporting or ethical oversight.
As an international journal, however, PLOS ONE has a responsibility to establish and maintain consistent and high standards for publication. Therefore, we require that authors assure us on submission of appropriate ethical review and approval for experimental work involving animals and human participants; relevant permissions for field studies or observational work; and adherence to appropriate discipline-specific guidelines for the reporting of taxonomic, paleontological, or archaeological specimens. In some areas, there are also more prescriptive guidelines to ensure the full description of study methods and results—including CONSORT for reporting randomized clinical trials and PRISMA for reporting systematic reviews in relation to human participants—and we provide links to many more in our manuscript guidelines.
How do journal staff check for these standards when we receive so many submissions each day? At PLOS ONE, we’ve found that the most effective way to ensure papers meet our requirements is to perform a series of checks at submission. This ensures that by the time articles are assigned to Academic Editors for detailed review, crucial information about ethical oversight and study conduct will be available for their consideration. By screening papers before the formal peer-review process, we provide support to our Editorial Board and reviewers, who volunteer their time and offer an invaluable service to the journal and the scientific community as a whole. Equipping our Academic Editors with additional, important details when they agree to handle a manuscript allows them to focus their specialized expertise where it is most valued: on the scientific and technical quality of the paper.
That said, we consider our Academic Editors as partners in our goal of maintaining high standards for reporting, research ethics, and integrity. We ask our Editorial Board members for advice in difficult situations, and greatly appreciate the expert input that they provide. In certain situations we seek the advice of additional experts in reporting or ethics to provide oversight on specific papers, and are currently setting up dedicated advisory boards to assist us. We also consult Editorial Board members when developing new internal policies, or when robust community guidelines (such as CONSORT for randomized clinical trials or the proposed ARRIVE for experimental animal research) are not yet available for specific study types.
We appreciate the support of PLOS ONE authors, editors, and reviewers in helping us maintain the highest standards possible.
Posted on behalf of the in-house editors at PLOS ONE:
Associate Editors Gina Alvino, Sarah Bangs, Meghan Byrne, Christna Chap, Michelle Dohm, Matt Hodgkinson, Anna Schmidt, and Elizabeth Silva; Senior Editors Eric Martens and Emma Veitch; Consulting Editors Catriona MacCallum and Iratxe Puebla; and Editorial Director Damian Pattinson