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Peer review, editorial standards and processes

Space-time diagram. Credit: Matthew Simpson
Space-time diagram showing characteristic curves for a population of heterogeneous cells © Matthew Simpson

Editorial independence

Editorial independence is respected. The content of Royal Society journals is entirely independent of the Society’s views on any scientific or policy issues. The editor’s decision is final and will not be influenced or compromised in any way by the Society.

Peer review systems

Papers submitted to Royal Society research journals are normally peer reviewed in a single-anonymized fashion (author names are not concealed, but referee names are).

We do all we can to ensure the peer review process is fair and we aim to minimise bias, measures include:

  • Striving to have a diverse representation on our editorial boards. We actively encourage board members to select from a diverse pool of reviewers – some of these being suggested by authors
  • Constantly reminding board members, reviewers and staff to be aware of their unconscious biases when making decisions
  • Working with other publishers to collect anonymised diversity data to assess where there are potential biases in our peer review system

For Royal Society Open Science, Open Biology and Proceedings B, publication of peer review information (anonymous by default unless the reviewer signs their report) is mandatory. For Proceedings A, we offer authors the option to publish peer review information - this will soon be extended to Biology Letters.

Unless published with the article, the referee reports and other correspondence relating to your paper must remain confidential and should not be shared or made publicly available. If discussions between an author, editor, and referee have taken place in confidence they will remain in confidence unless explicit consent has been given by all parties or there are exceptional circumstances.

For submissions to the Philosophical Transactions journals, the guest editor of the issue manages the review process and is encouraged to seek at least two referees for each paper.

Editors or board members are never involved in editorial decisions about their own work and in these cases papers may be referred to other editors or the editor-in-chief.

Edits to reviews are kept to an absolute minimum. Edits address only issues of tone, language, and deviations from journal policy and reviewer guidelines, and will not change the meaning or intention of the review.

The Royal Society does not tolerate abusive behaviour or correspondence towards its staff, academic editors, authors or reviewers. Any author of a paper submitted to a Royal Society journal who engages in abusive behaviour or correspondence will have their paper immediately withdrawn from consideration for publication by the journal concerned. Consideration of subsequent submissions to Royal Society journals will be at the discretion of the Editor.


A co-reviewer is defined as a researcher - often early in their career - or technician who reviews a manuscript together with a more senior (invited) reviewer. When used appropriately it is a valuable learning experience that we are happy to support. The senior reviewer is limited to one appropriately qualified co-reviewer per review.

The review process is strictly confidential and must be treated as such by reviewers during the review process and subsequently. To provide accountability and appropriate credit, the name and status (e.g. PhD student) of the co-reviewer should be disclosed on submission of the review.

The senior reviewer should be the main point of contact and is ultimately accountable for the review. The senior reviewer and co-reviewer should agree on the wording of the review, and the same principles relating to confidentiality and competing interests apply to both reviewers. 

For journals where we publish peer review information, there is the option for the senior reviewer to disclose their name to obtain credit. In addition, there is the opportunity to include the co-reviewer’s name too, provided they have given consent.


Authors have a right to appeal editorial decisions.

The author should submit the grounds for their appeal to the editorial office, addressed to the editor. Authors are discouraged from directly contacting editorial board members and editors with appeals.

Following an appeal, all editorial decisions are final.

Editors will mediate all exchanges between authors and referees during the peer review process (i.e. prior to publication). If agreement cannot be reached, editors may consider inviting comments from additional referee(s) if appropriate.

Standards of accuracy

We have a duty to publish corrections or other notifications when errors or fraud could affect the interpretation of data or information.

A correction is normally used when a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading. Errors which require correction include:

  • Anything that changes data or the scientific meaning
  • Anything contained in metadata elements (e.g. title, authors, affiliations, funding info)
  • Any other error where it is imperative that all readers and downstream vendors have the updated version. 

An expression of concern is used to make readers aware of potentially misleading information/results in a paper. It should be considered if: 

  • Editors receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors 
  • there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case 
  • they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive 
  • an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time

    A retraction is a notification of invalid results and will be considered if: 
  • Editors have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable (and may invalidate the conclusions of the paper), either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error) 
  • the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication) 
  • it constitutes plagiarism 
  • it reports unethical research

A notice of redundant publication (the same work has been published in more than one article without justification) 

An addendum can be used where it is helpful to provides additional information or clarification. These focus on what need changing or clarifying in a paper and are not a forum for debate.

Format of notices (correction/expression of concern/retraction/notice of redundant publication/addendum):

  • Notices are written in a way that enables the reader to identify and understand the correction in context with the errors made, why the article is being retracted, or the editor's concerns about the contents of the article.
  • Notices have their own DOI but are linked electronically with the original publication.
  • They are published in a form that enables indexing and abstracting services to identify and link corrections and retractions.
  • The notice will be published at the end of the latest issue and will appear on the table of contents (TOC).
  • A retraction must be signed by 1 of the following: the author, the author's legal counsel, the author's sponsoring institution, or the editor of the journal.
  • A notice of redundant publication will reference both of the duplicate articles.

The Royal Society participates in the CrossMark initiative from Crossref to provide a standard way for readers to locate the current version of a piece of content. By applying the Crossmark logo Royal Society is committing to maintaining the content it publishes and to alerting readers to changes if and when they occur.
Clicking on the logo will tell you the current status of a document and may also give you additional publication record information about the document.

Author name changes after publication

Authors may change their name for many reasons including marriage, divorce, religion, gender identity and other personal reasons. The Royal Society is committed to respecting the rights of our authors to their own identities, fully supporting author inclusion and ensuring that authors receive credit for all their work. It is therefore our policy to facilitate changes to author names, email addresses, biography photos, pronouns, and any other identifiers that may be necessary as a result of a change in author name.

These changes will be made directly to the article pdf and html. We will re-send article metadata to abstracting and indexing services such as Scopus and Web of Science, although we acknowledge that we are not able to enforce replacement of the metadata on their platforms. The DOI for the paper remains the same.

The Royal Society will retain an original version of the paper in its records in a secure environment, but this will not be made publicly available. This is to ensure that changes are made accurately and so that any changes can be reverted in future if requested.

Authors wishing to make such changes should contact the editorial office for the journal in which they have published. 

Open criticism and debate

We encourage academic debate and constructive criticism of the research published in our journals. Authors do not have a right to veto unfavourable comments about their work, but they may choose not to respond to criticisms. No referee comment or published correspondence may contain a personal attack on any of the authors. Criticism of the work (not the researcher) is encouraged and editors should edit (or reject) personal or offensive statements.

Comment and reply policy

A comment brings attention to an oversight in a journal article or proposes an opposing view. It is often a critique, providing corrections or offering new analyses. However, if factual errors are identified that affect the accuracy of the published record, a corrigendum or erratum may be published instead. A comment is not used to address ethical issues – appropriate COPE guidelines should be used instead. 

A comment is published in an issue after the primary article has been published and can be proposed by any reader within three months of online publication of the initial article. It will be published at the discretion of the Editor. The comment is peer-reviewed, usually by a referee from the original article and another impartial referee. At the same time, it is shared with the corresponding author of the original article. If accepted, it is held to allow a reply from the original authors.

The reply will also be peer-reviewed (if it passes triage). The reply is published in an issue alongside the comment. Comment and reply is normally limited to one round.

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