Peer review and post-publication discussions are important pillars of quality management in academic publishing. However, on the basis of research journal websites and editorial instructions, it is surprisingly hard to learn the details of research journal peer review procedures and editorial policies. Information on reviewer selection, review criteria, blinding, the use of digital tools such as text similarity scanners, as well as policies on corrections and retractions remains difficult to find.
Why the transparency declaration?
Transparency about editorial policies is vital for several reasons. Authors are entitled to know exactly how and on what grounds their manuscript will be assessed. Reviewers benefit from clear and specific instructions about their task and role in the review process. Quality journals may distinguish themselves from predatory ones by articulating clear editorial policies. Transparent policies also enable research on the benefits of different peer review practices, which is required to ultimately facilitate better review. In general, transparency is crucial for building trust in the community, which is essential for the functioning of science.
Transparent editorial policies should explain procedures for four publication and peer review phases:
- At submission
Explain editorial governance, including the precise composition of the editorial board, the scope of the journal, the applicable ethics policies, and the use of journal metrics, including rejection rates.
- During review
Explain the criteria for article selection (e.g. the relevance of novelty and/or anticipated impact and methodological rigour) and the timing of review in the publication process (e.g. whether registered reports and/or post-publication review are used). Be clear about the extent to which authors’ and reviewers’ identities will be known (blinding), and to whom review reports will be communicated. Specify how reviewers will be selected, instructed, or possibly trained. Also explain how digital tools such as similarity scanners and scanners for digital image manipulation will be used and whether any reporting guidelines are applied.
Make information about the review process of published articles available on the article-level, by detailing the roles in the review process (e.g. specify how many reviewers were involved and what other people contributed to the final decision), what criteria for acceptance and what digital tools were used.
Explain the criteria and procedures for corrections, expressions of concern, retractions, or other rectifications or changes to published material.
Transparent editorial policies should be explicit and detailed. For example, mentioning that ‘blind review’ is performed is not enough, since this can refer to anonymised authors, authors removed from references, anonymised reviewers, identities that are revealed after review or publication, or even anonymised editors. Similarly, announcing the use of a similarity check does not explain what will be done with the results. Hence, procedures should be specified in detail. Information about editorial policies should be kept up to date and changes should be documented and archived. This can either be done on the journal homepage, in the guide for authors or on the article-level along with published articles.
Making editorial policies transparent will require an effort by publishers and editors. However, it builds trust in the research community and constitutes an essential measure to improve the fairness, integrity, and quality of the journal review process.