Journal scope and submission types
Continuing its long history of influential scientific publishing, Philosophical Transactions A publishes high quality theme issues on topics of current importance and general interest within the physical, mathematical and engineering sciences, guest-edited by leading authorities and comprising new research, reviews and opinions from prominent researchers. Each issue aims to create an original and authoritative synthesis, often bridging traditional disciplines, which showcases current developments and provides a foundation for future research, applications and policy decisions.
Issues are either based on Royal Society discussion meetings or are stand-alone topics commissioned by the journal or proposed by the Guest Editors. All contributions are invited and the journal does not accept unsolicited papers.
The journal considers a range of paper types, including new research, reviews, opinion pieces and meeting reports.
Although all papers have been commissioned and approved for consideration at an early stage, each paper must meet the quality standards of the journal. Information about our criteria can be found below.
Before reviewing for Philosophical Transactions A, please familiarise yourself with the full scope of the journal and the review process.
Criteria for publication
The criteria for selection for publication are:
- Outstanding scientific excellence and importance that furthers the field, and improves or changes our understanding of it.
- Originality: research articles should report novel work that has not been published elsewhere. Manuscripts that lack novelty or only present an incremental advance over previous work are not acceptable. Review articles should cover the latest developments in a specific area of research, place it in a wider context and provide original insights into the topic.
- Potential interest for a wide spectrum of readers; findings should be put into a wide context and be understandable by readers who may not be familiar with the subject area.
- Conforming to recognised standards of scientific procedure in terms of methodology and ethical standards.
Reviewers are asked to assess the paper and provide guidance to help Guest Editors to make a decision on publication, and constructive feedback to authors on how to improve their article. The referees’ reports constitute recommendations to the Editor-in-Chief of the journal and Guest Editor(s) of the issue. Guest Editors will use these referee reports when making decisions on the paper, but will also make their own report setting the paper in the wider context of the issue. If you need more information on the theme issue (and therefore the context of the paper) please contact the handling editor or the Editorial Office.
Referees are asked to consider the criteria listed above. Manuscripts that are technically sound but that don’t meet the above criteria will generally not be suitable for publication. In these cases your report should provide details of any revisions the authors can make to bring their manuscript up to the required standard or recommend rejection.
Attention should be paid to:
- Writing style and appropriateness for a wide audience.
- Scientific accuracy, including statistical analysis. Referees may suggest that the article be sent to a specialist statistical reviewer. We provide some guidance on good statistical practice.
- Whether the research methods are appropriate, and evidence is provided for the conclusions drawn.
- Use of suitable illustrations, tables and supplementary material to illustrate results.
- Appropriate length - each article should be of the shortest length required to contain all useful and relevant information, and no longer.
- Ethics - any ethical concerns should be included in the referee's report. For example, concerns regarding animal experimentation, human studies or conservation issues.
- Data sharing - it is the policy of the journal that authors make any data, code and research materials supporting the results in the article publically available on publication, either in a repository or as supplementary material. A ‘Data Accessibility’ section should appear at the end of the manuscript where applicable. You will be asked to confirm that this is available and that suitable content has been provided. Please contact the Editorial Office if you feel that the information provided is insufficient for you to assess, and please include details of anything that you feel is missing in your comments to the authors.
- Transparency of information. Papers must include appropriate end sections: authors’ contributions, competing interests, ethics statement (where relevant), data accessibility and funding. Please note in your comments if you feel that anything is missing or concerns you.
- Electronic supplementary material. Supplementary material should be reviewed in addition to the main text. Please note that the main article as published should stand on its own merit.
If you have any suspicion of misconduct please alert the Editorial Office as soon as possible. This can include fabrication of results, plagiarism, duplicate publication, incorrect authorship or any other area of concern.
Submission of referee reports: The report form asks a series of multiple choice questions and has space for comments to the authors as well as for additional confidential comments to the Guest Editors. All reviews should include detailed comments for the authors, particularly when rejection or major revision is recommended. We require referees to submit the report via the online reviewer form – we are unfortunately unable to accept email submissions of your report.
Collaborative reviewing: If you wish to write your review with a student or colleague, this is usually permitted. However please tell the journal before starting your review, and make sure that you name all reviewers in the confidential comments section of your review. Please also note the confidentiality policy below.
Unconscious bias: Philosophical Transactions A is committed to the efforts undertaken by the Royal Society and Royal Society Publishing to make users of our services aware of and responsive to the challenges posed by unconscious biases. As part of these efforts, the Royal Society has published a blog post, guidance PDF and short video animation to support users in understanding and tackling unconscious bias. Our referees are strongly encouraged to familiarise themselves with these publications when considering reviewing for the journal.
Journal procedure: Articles are handled by the Guest Editors for that particular theme issue. Most papers will be sent to two or more independent referees. Authors are welcome to suggest suitable referees, which the Guest Editors may consider.
Your full review (including your name) will be seen by the Guest Editor(s) for the issue (unless they are authors on the paper) and the Editorial Office staff. In cases of conflict or concern, reviews may also be shared with the journal’s Editor-in-Chief or a relevant member of the Editorial Board.
As all papers are commissioned specifically for a theme issue, rejection is relatively rare. Instead, authors are given plenty of opportunity to make revisions, and are supported and helped by the Guest Editors where required. However, the referee reports are still essential for improving papers, and recommendations of rejection from the reviewers are taken very seriously. Please note that sometimes Guest Editors recommend that authors do not consider certain aspects of reviewer recommendations, for example if a recommended additional topic is covered by another paper in the issue.
Decision options: Reviewers are asked to recommend either acceptance, revision or rejection. Acceptance should be selected for a paper that is ready for publication as it is, or it only needs minor non-scientific changes. Minor revisions indicates that a paper does not have major problems, and should be acceptable with some further work. Major revisions indicates that significant work is required to bring the paper up to an acceptable standard, and further review to assess the revisions may be necessary. Rejection should be reserved for papers that have major problems with experimental design, interpretation or novelty, or if you have identified misconduct or ethical issues.
The comments to authors section of your review should be as thorough and constructive as possible.
Speed of refereeing: As each paper is part of a theme issue that will all publish together, it is important that papers keep to schedule. Therefore, we ask referees to report back within 21 days of receiving the manuscript. In certain instances, an extension to this time may be granted by the Editorial Office, but should be agreed in advance.
Revisions: Revisions will be assessed by the Guest Editor of the journal. In many cases, the Guest Editor will make a decision using the author’s response to the reviews. However if the changes required were extensive, the original referee(s) may be asked to review it again and comment on authors' replies to their criticisms of the original version.
Adjudication: In cases where the Guest Editors feel unable to make a decision on a manuscript, for example if there is a substantial disparity between referee reports, an adjudicator may be sought. Adjudicators are sent the referee reports and the full paper and asked to advise the Guest Editor. Editorial Board members are often invited to be Adjudicators.
Appeals: Authors have the right to appeal a rejection decision. In this circumstance, referees may be asked by the Guest Editor to comment on issues raised by the authors. Appeals will only be considered if there has been a fundamental and clear misunderstanding of the research presented in the manuscript.
We encourage reviewers to sign up to Publons which allows you to collate a list of verified reviews. We would also recommend that you register for an ORCID . This unique ID number allows you to easily attribute all of your published papers, grants and referee reports to yourself. Please add your ORCID to your user account in our ScholarOne system when you complete your review, and link your review to your ORCID account via Publons.
The Publishing Ethics policy describes the Royal Society's position on the major ethical principles of academic publishing. Authors, editors and referees are asked to comply with this policy. In addition, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) have published ethical guidelines for peer reviewers that provide basic guidance on the principles and standards that peer reviewers are expected to adhere to.
Anonymity: It is the policy of the Society that the names of referees are kept confidential, unless otherwise requested by referees in their report.
Confidentiality: When agreeing to referee an article, all referees undertake to keep the article confidential, and not to redistribute it without permission from the Society and the authors. If referees wish to invite a colleague to help with the review, or if the advice of colleagues is sought, referees must obtain consent from the Editorial Office and ensure that confidentiality is maintained. The names of anyone involved with the review besides the invited reviewer should be included in the confidential comments to the Editor.
Your review (in whole or in part) will be seen by the paper’s author(s), members of the Editorial Board and Editorial Office staff, and the other referees. The journal also reserves the right to send your comments, in confidence, to other experts in the case of further advice being required. The content of your review must remain confidential, even after publication of the paper. If you wish to share your review for any reason please contact the Editorial Office.
Conflicts of interest: Where referees have a conflict of interest (e.g. competing commercial interest or a personal association that could bias judgement) this should be declared upon invitation to referee.
Data protection: Referee details are entered on our editorial database to ensure that we can process articles efficiently. In accordance with the Data Protection Act, referees are informed that the data will be used for processing articles for publication as well as for general administrative purposes. We will not pass your information on to third parties other than our contractors, suppliers or agents who we use to provide services that you have requested or who help us provide those services. A copy of the Society's data protection policy, including data subjects' rights, is obtainable from the Society.