Peer Review Week 2017 – Shining a light on our appeals procedure

Throughout Peer Review Week 2017, and in line with this year’s topic of ‘Transparency in Peer Review’, IOP Publishing will be revealing what really goes on behind the scenes from initial submission of an article to making a final decision. In this blog post, I discuss IOP Publishing’s appeals procedure – what happens when an author disagrees with the reasons behind a reject decision.

Nobody wants their submitted paper to be rejected. It is usually the results of months, or even years, of hard work. When you finally submit your precious research to your preferred journal, you await nervously hoping for positive reports, and ultimately an accept decision. But there is of course no guarantee of this. Rejection rates across some of our higher impact journals are as high as 90%, and rejection is a common issue that all researchers must face. Even experts at the top of their field will have had work rejected at some stage of their career.

For IOPP’s portfolio of journals rejection comes at two stages:

  • pre-refereeing: where either the in-house editors or the editorial board do not feel that the work meets the scope/quality standards of the journal. Or…
  • after full peer review.

For all our journals, we try to be as clear as possible, regardless of the stage at which we are making the decision, why we are rejecting. If there is a disparity between the reports, or if we have concerns about a particular report, we consult with a further referee/board member before making a decision. We try to ensure that our decisions are based on expert unbiased advice, but we all know that peer review is not perfect. We and/or referees can be wrong, or can misinterpret work. Therefore, there may be times when you disagree with the decision, and feel that the reject decision is ungrounded. If this is the case, then you should consider appealing the decision.

All authors have the right to appeal against a decision that they feel is either unjust or based on a misunderstanding. Here at IOPP we follow a set procedure to make sure that every case is dealt with in a correct and fair way. In summary, the process is as follows:

  1. once we receive your appeal, we check it in-house to make sure that it contains all the information we require (more on this later!)
  2. we send you an acknowledgement email, letting you know that it has been received and is being considered.
  3. we send the appeal, your paper, any referee reports and any further relevant correspondence/information to the Editorial Board for consideration.
  4. If the board feels that your article warrants further consideration then we will let you know what the next steps will be. Please note that every case will be different, so these stages will differ from case to case. Generally, your paper will either be sent for further review immediately, or we will ask you to make any necessary revisions. An appeal being successful DOES NOT mean that your paper is accepted, or that it will end up being accepted. It just means that the peer review process has resumed.
  5. If the board does not feel that your article should be considered further following your appeal, we will stand by our initial reject decision. We will let you know the reasons behind this decision. A rejection following an appeal is the final decision. We will not consider the article any further, and at this stage you should consider submitting your work elsewhere.

Appeals can be successful – in the 4 years that I have been working at IOPP I have seen several appeals ending up with the article ultimately being accepted. However, they do run the risk of just prolonging reaching the inevitable reject decision. It is therefore important to know when to appeal, and what is required.

Here are my top tips for authors who are considering appealing a reject decision:

  1. DO send your appeal to the journal mailbox within 4weeks of receiving the reject decision. We are unable to consider appeals that are lodged after this.
  2. DO take a couple of days to digest the decision comments and decide whether appealing is definitely the right way forward.
  3. DON’T immediately send an angry, reactionary email to the journal We will not consider appeals that are abusive in tone either towards ourselves or to the referees.
  4. DO make sure that all your co-authors have seen the decision letter and any reports, and agree with lodging an appeal. The appeal letter should be approved by all authors of the manuscript before it is submitted.
  5. DO address all the points made by the referees or in the decision letter. If you disagree with some of the comments, then explain why in a polite way. We will not consider appeals that do not address referees’ comments, or which dismiss them out of hand.
  6. DON’T submit your manuscript to another journal if you are in the process of appealing a reject decision. You must wait to hear the decision regarding your appeal before submitting elsewhere. It is considered unethical behaviour to submit the same article to a second primary research journal whilst it remains under active consideration by another.

Further information regarding IOPP’s peer review policy, including our appeals procedure can be found here

IOP Publishing is a member of the Committee for Publication Ethics (COPE), and adheres to the COPE Guidelines and Principles of Transparency and Best Practice. IOPPs ethical policy can be found here

To find out more about the peer review process, why not read our blog post from last year: What is Peer Review?

This article was written by Jess Thorn, Editor of New Journal of Physics



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