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Reviewer guide

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Reviewing for Development

Unbiased independent critical assessment is of vital importance in scholarly publishing, and Development adheres to The Company of Biologists' editorial principles and to the guidelines on publishing objective and unbiased scientific information set by COPE (the Committee on Publication Ethics). For more information on the principles that are of relevance to reviewers, please visit our journal policies page. Information on our editorial process can be found here. Further details on different article types can be found here.

Development encourages the involvement of postdocs and other early career scientists in the peer review process. We simply ask that: the name of the co-reviewer is reported to the Editor (a field is provided in the report form for this purpose); the same rules of confidentiality and conflict of interest be applied; there is a genuine mentoring process; the senior invited reviewer takes responsibility for the report delivered to the journal.

Development operates a system of cross-referee commenting (see this Editorial for details). The aim of this is to help resolve differences between referees, identify unnecessary or unreasonable requests, or – conversely – highlight valid concerns raised by one referee but overlooked by others. Our system provides a 48 hour window to allow referees to comment on each others' reports before the editor makes a decision. We would greatly appreciate any feedback you may have on the other referees' reports, particularly if your appraisal of the manuscript differs from theirs. The editor may also be in touch directly with specific questions that will help him/her to make a decision on the manuscript.

Reviewers wishing to identify themselves to the authors by signing their reviews are welcome to do so.

Development now publishes ‘Peer review history’ files alongside published manuscripts. These include decision letters, referee reports and author point-by-point responses, along with a timeline of the submission and revision process, and the name of the handling editor.

Authors will be able to opt out of having their peer review history files published, but we hope that most authors will be happy to include these as part of the published record. Referees, by accepting to review a paper for Development, will be indicating their willingness to have their comments published, although we will maintain anonymity unless a referee chooses to reveal their identity. Confidential comments to the editor will remain confidential (although we encourage referees to use these only under exceptional circumstances and would prefer all information to be included in the report to the authors), as will comments made through the cross-referee commenting process.

To make manuscript submission as easy as possible for authors, Development has recently introduced a format-free submission policy, meaning that authors no longer have to adhere to journal formatting guidelines when they first submit a manuscript for peer review. We still encourage authors to format their manuscripts for ease of viewing by reviewers and editors by using double-line spacing and inserting line numbers but this is no longer a mandatory requirement. As an author, we are sure you will appreciate this new policy; however, as a reviewer, if you have trouble viewing a specific manuscript, please contact the Editorial Office and we will ask the authors to provide a more user-friendly version.

Research and Techniques & Resources papers rejected from Development may be transferred, strictly with the authors' approval, to The Company of Biologists’ online Open Access journal Biology Open (BiO) for editorial review. In this case, the reviewer reports and identities will be made available to the BiO Editors. Reviewer identities are always anonymous to authors. By passing on reports, our aim is to reduce the burden on authors and reviewers by avoiding the multiple rounds of review often encountered on a paper's route to publication. Please contact the Editorial Office should you have any queries. Note that Development is also trialling a system of passing reports and reviewer identities (with permission) to journals from other publishers, if requested by the corresponding author of the paper.

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Guidelines for Reviewing Research Articles and Reports

In reviewing an article for Development, we ask referees to consider two main questions. Firstly, what is the advance made in the paper and how significant is this for the field? Secondly, do the data reported in the paper justify the conclusions drawn? Where referees are positive about potential publication, we ask that comments should be focussed on essential revisions, rather than potential extensions of the study. Where referees would not recommend publication, we ask that the comments clearly detail the problems or limitations with the study. Referees are of course welcome to provide feedback on extending the scope of the study, but these should be clearly specified as such. We strongly encourage referees to view the Referee Report Form before starting to review a paper. When reviewing an article, please bear in mind the following points:

1. The main criterion for publication in Development is that a Research Article or Report should make a significant and novel contribution to our understanding of developmental mechanisms, and should be of broad interest to the developmental biology and/or stem cell community. Studies lacking such a contribution, no matter how meticulous, are not acceptable for publication, and nor, in general, are papers repeating in one species what has already been discovered in another. Research Reports, although shorter in length, should still report a significant advance that furthers our understanding of developmental biology.

2. Descriptive studies, such as those describing the expression pattern of a gene or the effects of a particular substance on development, will generally not be considered for potential publication. Where a research paper involves a genome-wide or high-throughput screen, authors need to provide additional and novel insight into the functions of the identified targets by either verifying at least one target such that it is shown to be a crucial functional component of the network or phenotype of interest, or to use the data to make system-wide predictions about how the network acts. Experiments should ideally be performed to test these predictions where it is feasible to do so. Only under exceptional circumstances will an Editor decide that an exception to these guidelines is warranted. Please note that the journal also has a ‘Techniques and Resources’ section; specific guidelines for reviewing these papers can be found below.

3. Development is happy to consider theoretical papers. However these must provide new insights into the question being addressed, rather than simply providing confirmation of experimental results using modelling approaches.

4. Development requests that authors limit the amount of Supplementary data that they submit with a paper to those materials essential for the paper. When assessing supplementary data, please check if all of the data submitted are appropriate and essential for supporting the findings of a paper. For further information on what is and is not acceptable as Supplementary Material, please refer to our author guidelines.

5. We ask that referees specifically assess manuscripts in terms of the validity of statistical methods used, as well as the quality and integrity of the data presented. Please clearly outline any potential concerns in these areas (such as inappropriate data manipulation or improper use of statistics) in your report.

6. In general, we believe that all information pertinent to the decision on a manuscript should be included in the comments to the author. However, we recognise that there are occasions where referees need to communicate comments of a confidential nature to the editor (particularly where there may be ethical issues), and we therefore provide a box for such confidential comments.

7. Because preprints are not peer reviewed, reviewers should not reference preprints as examples of lack of novelty when evaluating manuscripts. Authors may be encouraged to discuss relevant preprints, but they should not be taken into consideration when making a recommendation on a paper.

Please note that an editor may seek additional feedback from referees or advisors in cases where a decision is not straightforward, and this may involve sharing referee reports (anonymously). However, editorial decisions are not made according to a majority rule as an editor will evaluate the recommendations of all the reviewers before reaching a final decision. Reviews are also shared between reviewers of the same paper once a decision has been communicated to the authors.

Papers rejected from Development may be transferred, strictly with the authors' approval, to The Company of Biologists’ online Open Access journal Biology Open (BiO) for editorial review. In this case, the reviewer reports and identities will be made available to the BiO Editors. Reviewer identities are anonymous to the authors, except where the reviewer has chosen to sign their report. By passing on reports, our aim is to reduce the burden on authors and reviewers by avoiding the multiple rounds of review often encountered on a paper's route to publication. Please contact the Editorial Office should you have any queries.

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Guidelines for Reviewing Techniques and Resources Articles and Reports

Development asks reviewers of Technical papers to assess whether the paper describes a novel technique, or a sufficiently substantial advance of an existing technique, and whether the technique being reported will have a significant impact on developmental biology and/or stem cell research. The new technique should be described in sufficient detail to be easily replicated in other laboratories, and validation of the approach should be included, as should an application of the technique to an area of developmental biology or stem cell research. For Resource papers, reviewers should assess whether the dataset or resource provided will be of major value to the developmental biology community. Reviewers should comment on whether the paper fulfils the requirement of making the data or resource available to the community with minimal restrictions.

All other standard reviewing guidelines that relate to Research Articles and Research Reports, including the article’s length, supplementary material and statistical analysis (as detailed above), also apply to Techniques and Resources papers. As with Research Articles and Reports, Techniques and Resources papers rejected from Development can be transferred, with the author’s approval, to our online-only Open Access journal Biology Open (BiO) for editorial assessment.

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Guidelines for Reviewing Commissioned Articles

Commissioned articles in Development (Reviews, Primers, Hypotheses and Development at a Glance articles) aim to provide a timely, insightful and accessible overview of a particular field or aspect of developmental biology or stem cell research. For specific details on the aim and format of each article type, please refer to our article types page. Please note that commissioned articles are edited in detail in-house to help authors revise their articles. Please also note that it can be hard for us to reject commissioned manuscripts owing to a referee's lack of general enthusiasm for an article. If you have specific concerns or objections about publication of the article, please make these explicit in your report.

Below, we provide a list of points for referees to bear in mind when reviewing each type of commissioned article.

Reviews

  1. Does the author provide new insight into the topic being reviewed?
  2. Are the author's arguments logically and coherently made? Are counterbalancing viewpoints acknowledged and discussed?
  3. Are all relevant key experiments and hypotheses covered?
  4. Is the article adequately and appropriately referenced?
  5. Is the article accessible to the non-specialist?
  6. Is the article too long? If so, what could be removed or condensed?
  7. Is the title appropriate?
  8. Is the information provided in figures, figure legends, boxes and tables clear and accurate?

‚ÄčPrimers

  1. Are the author's explanations of the topic accessible to a non-specialist audience?
  2. Does the author cover all the necessary aspects of the topic and provide an up-to-date account of it?
  3. Are the author’s arguments logically and coherently made? Are counterbalancing viewpoints acknowledged and discussed?
  4. Is the article adequately and appropriately referenced?
  5. Is the length of the article appropriate? (If not, please explain why.)
  6. Is the title appropriate?
  7. Is the information provided in figures, figure legends, boxes and tables clear and accurate?

Hypotheses

  1. Does the author introduce and explain the topic under discussion sufficiently well to enable readers to place the new theory or model into the context of the field as a whole?
  2. Does the author present coherent and well-supported arguments to support their hypothesis?
  3. Does the author acknowledge any shortcomings in their hypothesis and do they propose ways in which their hypothesis could be experimentally tested?
  4. If a debate exists in the field under discussion, are opposing viewpoints presented in a fair and balanced manner (authors are free to express which particular views they but their discussion of opposing views should be accurate and balanced).
  5. Does the author's hypothesis provide new insights into the process being discussed?
  6. Is the article adequately and appropriately referenced?
  7. Is the article too long? If so, what could be removed or condensed?
  8. Is the title appropriate?
  9. Is the information provided in figures, figure legends, boxes and tables clear and accurate?

Development at a Glance articles

The main focus of this article type is the poster, which presents an overview of a topic that will appeal to specialists and non-specialists alike and is meant to be a stand-alone resource. It should therefore be understandable in isolation from the text. It will be printed at at least four times journal page size so the author should display much more information than they would in a normal figure. The text should introduce the field and summarise what is displayed in the poster; it can also expand on the information depicted in the poster. Please note that all posters are redrawn by our graphics artist following peer review.

Additional points to consider:

  1. Are the author's explanations of the topic accessible to a non-specialist audience?
  2. Are their points logically and coherently made and all appropriate viewpoints acknowledged?
  3. Does the author cover all the necessary aspects of the topic and provide an up-to-date account?
  4. Can the poster be understood in isolation from the text?
  5. Does the poster convey a clear message?
  6. Does the poster clearly distinguish what is known from what is speculation?
  7. Is there anything missing from the poster? Or is there too much/unnecessary information?

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