Last year eLife changed its editorial process to focus on the peer review of preprints. One feature of the new approach was that once all the reviews had been received, the editor and the reviewers collaborated with each other to write an “Evaluation summary” that summarised the main points of the reviews in plain language for the benefit of readers.
The Evaluation summary was then posted alongside the preprint, along with Public reviews from each reviewer and – if available – a response from the authors.
Now, following our decision to eliminate the accept/reject decision at the end of the peer-review process, and based on our experience of reviewing more than 2,000 preprints with this approach, we have made two changes to these summaries.
First, we have changed the name from “Evaluation summary” to “eLife assessment” to emphasise that it is not a summary of the contents of the preprint: rather, it is a summary of what the editors and reviewers thought about the preprint.
Second, to help convey the views of the editor and the reviewers in a clear and consistent manner, we have created a common vocabulary by distilling a set of widely-used expressions from the summaries written to date. The expressions in this vocabulary – which are listed below – cover the significance of the findings and the strength of the evidence reported in the preprint.
For significance of findings:
- Landmark: findings with profound implications that are expected to have widespread influence
- Fundamental: findings that substantially advance our understanding of major research questions
- Important: findings that have theoretical or practical implications beyond a single subfield
- Valuable: findings that have theoretical or practical implications for a subfield
- Useful: findings that have focused importance and scope
For strength of support:
- Exceptional: exemplary use of existing approaches that establish new standards for a field
- Compelling: evidence that features methods, data and analyses more rigorous than the current state-of-the-art
- Convincing: appropriate and validated methodology in line with current state-of-the-art
- Solid: methods, data and analyses broadly support the claims with only minor weaknesses
- Incomplete: main claims are only partially supported
- Inadequate: methods, data and analyses do not support the primary claims
Our editors and reviewers will, when appropriate, include both the key terms (highlighted in bold above) and aspects of the phrasing when writing eLife assessments. In addition to making the process more consistent, we believe that this approach will provide readers with an assessment of the work that is richer and more nuanced than that previously conveyed by the statement “published in eLife”.
The following hypothetical examples capture both the content and style of these new eLife assessments across the full range of anticipated outcomes.
- This fundamental work substantially advances our understanding of protein import into peroxisomes by identifying a novel player in this process and uncovering its mode of action. The evidence supporting the conclusions is compelling, with rigorous biochemical assays and state-of-the-art microscopy. The work will be of broad interest to cell biologists and biochemists.
- This study presents a valuable finding on the increased activity of two well-studied signal transduction pathways in a specific subtype of breast cancer. The evidence supporting the claims of the authors is solid, although inclusion of a larger number of patient samples and an animal model would have strengthened the study. The work will be of interest to medical biologists working on breast cancer.
- This important study combines experiments and theory to quantify the force exerted on chromosomes during cell division. The new method for force measurements is highly compelling and goes beyond the current state-of-the-art, but the theoretical analysis is incomplete and would benefit from more rigorous approaches. With the theoretical part strengthened, this paper would be of interest to cell biologists and biophysicists working on the cytoskeleton and cell division.
- This study presents a useful inventory of genes that are up- and down-regulated in human heart tissue during aging. The data were collected and analysed using solid and validated methodology and can be used as a starting point for functional studies of heart development and disease.
- This paper reports the fundamental discovery of a new mode of mammalian cell migration, which does not involve either actin or microtubule cytoskeleton. If confirmed, the study will change the way we think about cell motility and would be of very broad general interest. However, whereas some of the imaging data are compelling, the functional analyses are inadequate as they rely on a very limited set of pharmacological treatments.
- This landmark study provides a comprehensive morphological and molecular description of the majority of documented neuronal cell types in the mouse cortex. This provides an extraordinary resource that will be invaluable to the whole neuroscience community. The methodology for combining expansion microscopy with spatially resolved transcriptomics across tissues is exceptional and establishes a new standard in the field.
This new approach builds on ideas developed by two eLife editors: Jörn Diedrichsen (University of Western Ontario) and Mihaela D Iordanova (Concordia University).
If you’d like to learn more about the new process, we encourage you to:
- Explore ‘Peer Review without gatekeeping’ by Eisen et al.
- Read 'eLife’s New Model: Changing the way you share your research'
- Take a look at the frequently asked questions for authors
- Sign up to our bi-monthly eLife news for further updates
- Follow @eLife on Twitter
Questions and comments are welcome. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.