Referee Guidelines

About EMBO reports

EMBO reports is an international, monthly print and online publication dedicated to providing sharply focused, rapidly published short-format papers and review articles in all areas of molecular biology, as well as articles reflecting the broader impact of science on society. The journal is run by EMBO and is editorially independent of its publisher.


Criteria for publication

To maintain the impact and unique identity of EMBO reports, it is important that manuscripts are critically evaluated for compliance with the following criteria:

    1. Appropriate length and format for the type of article submitted
    2. Physiological/functional relevance demonstrated (detailed insight into the mechanism is not always necessary)
    3. Strong evidence for the conclusions that are drawn
    4. Novelty (abstracts, meeting reports & online preprints do not compromise novelty)
    5. Broad biological significance
    6. Importance to the specific field

The review process

Only those manuscripts judged most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent out for formal peer-review. Manuscripts typically go to three referees for their critical assessment. To enhance the fairness and consistency of the peer-review process, EMBO reports routinely asks referees to comment on each other's reports (see initiatives below). Manuscripts are subject to a single round of peer/review, with a clear decision taken based on the advice of the referees:

    1. Accept the manuscript, with or without minor revision
    2. Invite the authors to revise the manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached
    3. Reject the manuscript, typically on grounds of limited general interest, insufficient conceptual advance, major technical limitations, or inappropriateness for the type of article under consideration.

Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, but are based on an evaluation of the strengths of the arguments raised by each referee and by the authors. The most useful referee reports, therefore, are those that set out clear, substantiated arguments with concrete recommendations for the improvements and experiments necessary to achieve suitability for publication.


As part of the Transparent Peer-Review Process offered by all EMBO Press publications, EMBO reports adheres to the following editorial policies, intended to enhance the openness and fairness of peer-review.

Peer-Review Process Files

EMBO reports makes available online a 'Review Process File' (RPF) to accompany published manuscripts. This contains the correspondence, referee reports and author responses that contributed to the decision to publish the manuscript.

Importantly, referees will remain anonymous, as we believe this principle is important to ensure a good reviewing process. Please note that the transparent process only applies to original research papers (Scientific Reports), not to Reviews.

Reviewers for EMBO reports should understand that by agreeing to review, they are also agreeing that their report will be published verbatim in the RPF, should the manuscript be accepted. As stated above, these documents will not compromise the reviewer's anonymity.

Authors may opt out of this initiative. In such cases, the RPF will state: "No Review Process File is available with this article, as the authors have chosen not to make the review process public in this case".

A single key message

EMBO reports asks referees to assess the work in hand, to evaluate whether the experiments support the conclusions drawn, and whether those conclusions constitute a single key message worthy of publication in EMBO reports (keeping in mind that while we seek substantial, novel, physiological insight, we do not require authors to provide an extensive mechanistic understanding).

We specifically request that referees do not consider how the authors might develop their study beyond robustly testing their hypothesis; if such extensive development were required, then we would not consider the manuscript for EMBO reports.


To enhance the fairness and consistency of the peer-review process, and to ensure that the referees supply constructive, critical analysis to the authors, EMBO reports routinely asks referees to comment on each other's reports. As soon as all reports have been received, the editor sends them, anonymously, to all the referees, who then have one day to consider the others' views. This allows extreme opinions to be scrutinized at an early point, mistakes and errors to be detected, and helps the editor to get back to the author with balanced decisions.


We explicitly request that referees who involve another lab member in the reviewing process, as part of the mentoring process, state the name of the co- referee (a box is provided as part of the submission process). While we do encourage co-refereeing, it is essential that the main referee also reviews the manuscript and signs off on the report filed. Simply delegating review to another lab member is not part of mentorship and cannot be encouraged.

Confidential Comments to Editors (discontinuation)

To help ensure a transparent editorial process, EMBO reports has also abolished the ‘confidential comments' field from our referee reports and we ask referees to include all comments pertinent to the scientific evaluation of the manuscript in the report itself. These are then transmitted in full to the authors and other referees and published in the RPF.

Clearly, in cases where there are urgent concerns about ethical standards, data integrity, biosecurity, or conflicts of an academic or commercial nature, a referee can and should continue to communicate important information directly to the editor at

Selecting referees

Referee selection is critical to the review process, and our choice is based on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations, and our previous experience with the referee. We do not use referees who have been excluded by the authors, and avoid using referees who have repeatedly provided reports of low quality or delayed reports. We send manuscripts to referees only after having contacted them about the possibility first, and expect referees to treat even this initial request as confidential.

Proceeding to referee

To avoid unnecessary delays in processing manuscripts, please do the following immediately after downloading a manuscript for review:

    1. Double-check the deadline to ensure that there have been no misunderstandings regarding timing, and contact the editorial office immediately if you anticipate any difficulties in meeting it
    2. Read the editor's letter carefully and be sure to note any points specific tothe manuscript that the editor may have requested your opinion on
    3. Skim the manuscript and consider whether there might be a conflict of interest for you (with the authors, their institution, their funding sources) and whether you can judge the article impartially
    4. Consider whether the topic seems to fit the scope of the journal and is likely to be of sufficient general interest for publication.


Referees should treat the review process as being strictly confidential, and should keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • manuscripts refereed for EMBO reports should not be discussed with anyone not directly involved in the review process.
  • if colleagues are consulted, they should be identified to the editors in the approproate field in the referee submission system.
  • if experts from outside the referee's own laboratory are consulted, referees should check with the editors beforehand to avoid involving anyone who may have been excluded by the editor or the authors.
  • referees should, as a rule, not disclose their identities to the authors or to other colleagues since they may be asked to comment on the criticisms of other referees and may then find it difficult to be objective. Should they feel strongly about making their identities known to the authors, they should do so via the editor. We strongly disapprove of any attempt by authors to determine the identities of referees or to confront them, and encourage referees to neither confirm nor deny any speculation in this regard.

Writing a report

The primary purpose of referee reports is to provide the editors with the information that they need to reach a decision, but they should also provide information to the authors that may be needed to understand the editorial decision, as well a specific suggestions on how to strengthen their manuscript if revision is deemed a possibility. We recommend the following division of the report:


Referees are asked to supply answers to the following questions, with brief accompanying comments where appropriate:

    1. Does this manuscript report a single key finding? YES/NO
    If YES, please describe it in one sentence.
    2. Is the reported work of significance (YES), or does it describe a confirmatory finding or one that has already been documented using other methods or in other organisms etc (NO)? YES/NO
    3. Is it of general interest to the molecular biology community? YES/NO
    If YES, please say why, in a single sentence. If NO, please state which more specialized community you feel it is aimed at (or none), in a single word or phrase.
    4. Is the single major finding robustly documented using independent lines of experimental evidence (YES), or is it really just a preliminary report requiring significant further data to become convincing, and thus more suited to a longer­format article (NO)? YES/NO

Constructive criticism for the authors

Referees are asked to maintain a positive and impartial, but critical attitude in evaluating manuscripts. Criticisms should remain dispassionate; unpleasant or disdainful language is not acceptable. As far as possible, a negative report should explain to the authors the weaknesses of their manuscript, so that they can understand the basis for a decision to ask for revision or to reject the manuscript.

The ideal report should include:

1. An initial paragraph that summarises the major finding and the referee's overall impressions, as well as highlighting any major strengths or shortcomings of the manuscript.
2. Specific numbered comments which, if the manuscript merits further consideration, should be divided into those concerns of crucial importance that must be addressed during revision and those that are less important. The detailed free-form report should include answers to the following questions:

1. What are the major claims and how significant are they?

2. Are the claims novel and convincing?

3. Are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of earlier literature?

4. Who will be interested and why?

5. Does the paper stand out in some way from the others in its field?

6. Are the experimental data of sufficient quality to justify the conclusions?

For manuscripts that may merit further consideration, it is also helpful if referees can provide advice on the following points where appropriate:

    1. How the clarity of the writing might be improved (without necessarily going into specific details of spelling and grammar)
    2. How the manuscript might be shortened (including the removal of non­ essential experimental data to supplementary information)
    3. How to do the study justice without overselling the claims
    4. How to represent earlier literature more fairly
    5. How to improve the presentation of methodological detail so that the experiments can be reproduced
    6. The submission of supplementary data on the EMBO reports web site to enhance the presentation (depositing, for example, crystallographic information, source code for modelling studies, microarray data, detailed methods, mathematical derivations, long tables and movies).
    7. An assessment of how much any suggested additional experiments would improve the manuscript, how difficult they would be to complete within a reasonable timeframe (1­2 months), and whether they would render the article no longer suitable as a short­format report
    8. In cases where the manuscript is unacceptable in its present form, an opinion about whether the study is sufficiently promising to encourage resubmission in the future.

Editing referee reports

As a matter of policy, we do not suppress referee reports. On rare occasions, however, we may edit a report with permission where the referee has made a mistake, or to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information. We further ask referees to avoid saying anything that may cause offence or may be libellous, but also expect authors to recognise that criticisms are not necessarily unfair or able to cloud the editor's judgement simply because they are expressed in robust language.


EMBO reports is committed to rapid editorial decisions and publication as efficiency in this process is a valuable service both to our authors and the scientific community as a whole. We therefore ask that referees respond promptly or inform us if they anticipate a significant delay, which allows us to keep the authors informed and, where necessary, find alternative referees.

Conflicts of interest

We honour the authors' request to exclude certain individuals as referees due to potential conflicts of interest. In rare cases where an unreasonably high number of experts is excluded, we may however request a more restricted exclusion list from the authors. We also try to avoid referees who have recent or ongoing collaborations with the authors, have commented on drafts of the manuscript, are in direct competition, have a history of dispute with the authors, or have a financial interest in the outcome. Because it is not possible for the editors to know of all possible biases, we ask referees to draw our attention to anything that might affect their report, including competing work or commercial interests, and to decline to referee in cases where they feel unable to be objective. We do not find it necessary to exclude referees who have reviewed a paper for another journal; the fact that two journals have independently identified a particular person as well qualified to referee a paper does not decrease the validity of her/his opinion in our view.

Publication policy and ethical considerations

In spite of our best efforts to identify breaches of publication policy or ethical conduct, such as plagiarism or author conflict of interest, the referees who are more familiar with the field are more likely to recognise such problems and should alert the editors to any potential problems in this regard, either by e-mail or using the confidential comments to the editor.

Feedback to referees

Once a final decision on a manuscript has been reached, it is our policy to inform all referees of that decision and to send final copies of the other referee reports. Referees who find that their recommendations have been overruled should realise that this does not imply any lack of confidence in their judgement. It is not uncommon for experts to disagree and, in the absence of a consensus, the editors must still reach a decision one way or the other. When we ask referees to re-review a manuscript that has been revised in response to their criticisms, we also send them copies of the all the original comments of all reviewers.

Navigating the System

When you first log into the system, you will be taken to your "Home" page. It will have different catagories of tasks. If you are required to perform a pending action item, there will be a red arrow next to a manuscript link. After clicking on this link, you will be presented with a "Manuscript" screen containing:

  • Detailed Information about a specific manuscript.
  • Links to the manuscript and associated figures/images.
  • A list of "Manuscript Tasks" or links allowing you to:
    • Accept/Decline Reviewer Position.
    • Check Status
    • Review Manuscript

(Not all links will be present all the time. Only the applicable links will be visible.)

If there are no red arrows visible on the "Home" page, then you are finished. There is no pending work you need to worry about.

Review Manuscript

After logging into the system, pressing on a manuscript link preceded by a red arrow, you will be presented with a "Manuscript" screen as described above. At the bottom of this screen under "Manuscript Tasks" will be displayed a "Review Manuscript" link. Clicking on this link will display the "Review Manuscript" Screen. This screen is broken into 4 parts as follows:

  • Manuscript background information.
  • A review pop-down selection.
  • Remarks to the author.

If you prefer to work offline, you may find it quickest to download and print the PDF file, draft your review remarks using your favorite word processor and cut/paste it back into the reviewer remarks text area on this screen.

Be careful if you intend to copy and paste your written remarks back into the online system. Please do not assume that all lines of your original text were successfully copied back into the text box on the online page, and ensure you manually check that all of the write-up has been included.

In your evaluation you may want to consider the following points:

  • Is the paper original?
  • Is it well written?
  • Are critical references given?
  • Is the length of the paper commensurate with the message?
  • Are all tables, figures, graphs and photographs necessary?
  • If applicable, is "Material and Methods" section adequately written and referenced?

If you have not done so recently, for our future files please remember to Modify Profile when you are logged in to this site, providing 3-4 keywords to briefly describe your field(s) of expertise.

Getting help

If you need additional help, you can click on the help signs spread throughout the system. A help dialog will pop up with context sensitive help. For additional help, please contact the journal office: