Journal scope and submission types
Biology Letters is a primarily online, peer-reviewed journal that publishes short, high-quality articles, reviews and opinion pieces from across the biological sciences. The scope of Biology Letters is vast - publishing high-quality research in any area of the biological sciences. Before reviewing for the journal, please familiarise yourself with the full scope of the journal.
Contributions submitted to Royal Society journals that are selected for peer review are usually sent to two or more independent referees. Authors are welcome to suggest suitable referees, which the Editors may consider.
The referees’ reports constitute recommendations to the Handling Editors (via the Board Member) of the journal who, along with the Editor-in-Chief, are ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting submissions.
Biology Letters accepts the following article types; research articles, opinion pieces, reviews, and comments and invited replies. The structure of these articles can be found on our information for authors page.
Criteria for publication
The criteria for selection acceptance are:
• Work of outstanding scientific quality and international importance
• Potential interest to a wide spectrum of biologists
• To be acceptable for publication a paper should represent work of outstanding scientific quality and international importance
• Conforming to recognised standards of scientific procedure in terms of methodology and ethics
Reviewers are asked to assess the paper and provide guidance to help Editors make a decision on publication, as well as constructive feedback to authors on how to improve their article. The referees’ reports constitute recommendations to the Editors of the journal who are ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting submissions.
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:
• 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.
• Writing style and appropriateness for a wide audience.
• 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. The strict length requirements are 2500 words (5000 words for review articles only); this includes the cover page, references, end sections and figure legends.
• 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 digital research materials supporting the results in the article publically available on publication, either in a publically available repository or as supplementary material. A ‘Data Accessibility’ section should appear at the end of the manuscript where applicable to make clear where these data etc can be found. You will be asked to confirm that this statement 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. Attention should be paid to ensure that:
- Important information needed to understand the study is not included in supplementary files but is included in the main manuscript itself. The manuscript should remain as a stand-alone piece with the supplementary files providing clear supporting information
- Minimal references appear in the data supplements to ensure the sources are credited accurately on indexing services.
- All relevant database accession numbers are included.
- Colour is used where it is needed for genuine clarification.
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 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.
Journal procedure: All articles are sent to an Editorial Board Member for an initial assessment of their suitability, and may be returned to authors without in-depth peer review if this assessment makes it seem unlikely that the paper will be accepted. Contributions submitted to Biology Letters that are selected for peer review are usually sent to two or more, independent referees. Authors are welcome to suggest suitable referees, which the Society may consider. The Handling Editor will make an overall decision on a manuscript using the Board Member and peer reviewer comments.
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.
Decision options: Reviewers are asked to recommend either acceptance, revision or rejection. Acceptance should be selected for a paper that is basically ready for publication but may need some minor changes. Revision indicates that a paper does not have major problems, and should be acceptable with some further work. 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: The Society endeavours to keep time from submission to publication as short as possible. Therefore, we ask referees to report back within 10 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.
Notification of decision: We provide notification of the Editor’s decision on a manuscript to all referees.
Revisions and resubmissions: Please note that it is the editorial policy of Biology Letters to offer authors one round of revision in which to address changes requested by referees. If the revisions are not considered satisfactory by the Editor, then the paper will be rejected, and not considered further for publication by the journal. In the event that the author chooses not to address a referee’s comments, and no scientific justification is included in their cover letter for this omission, it is at the discretion of the Editor whether to continue considering the manuscript. For some rejected manuscripts, the authors will be permitted to submit a revised version.
For most revised or resubmitted articles, one or more of the original referees will be asked to review it and comment on authors' replies to their criticisms of the original version.
Adjudication: In cases of 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 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 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.
The outcome of an appeal is final and at the Editor’s discretion. Appeals will have one of three outcomes:
- The appeal is unsuccessful, and the rejection decision is not overturned
- The appeal is a success, and a resubmission is invited
- The appeal is a success, and the paper published ‘as is’.
In the event that the appeal is unsuccessful, the journal considers the matter closed, and will not conduct further correspondence regarding that appeal or rejected manuscript.
Transfers: Papers rejected from Biology Letters may be transferred to another Royal Society journal. In this circumstance your review will also be made available to the Editorial team on the other journal and used as part of their assessment of the paper – this may include your anonymous report being made available to other referees, if sought by the Editor. If you would not be happy for this to happen automatically, please let the Editorial Office know when you submit your review. This will not prohibit you from reviewing for the journal.
Biology Letters has partnered with Publons to give reviewers formal recognition for their work. Over tens of thousands of experts already use Publons to effortlessly track, verify and showcase their peer review and editorial contributions across the world’s journals, without compromising reviewer anonymity. Publons makes it simple to include verified evidence of your peer review and editorial activity in funding, promotion and visa applications.
Our partnership with Publons allows reviewers to easily track and verify every review by electing to add the review to their Publons profile when completing the review submission form. You can also add reviews you have done for other journals by forwarding your review receipts (i.e. "thank you for reviewing" emails from journals) to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Publons at https://publons.com/in/royalsociety/.
We encourage you to 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.
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.
Biology Letters 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 an In Verba blog post, a guidance PDF, and short video animation to support users in understanding and tackling unconscious bias.
Our authors are strongly encouraged to familiarise themselves with these publications when considering submitting to the journal.