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Referee Guide

Information for reviewing papers submitted to Systems Biology

Systems Biology requires that papers be subject to peer-review prior to acceptance for publication. This ensures that a high standard of publication is maintained by identifying material that is original, significant, and well presented.

We value the work of our referees and recognise that you are very busy and dedicated people. We are always interested to hear from you, especially regarding your views on how we can provide you with the best possible service. To help us do this we encourage you to alert the managing editor to the following:

  • changes in your contact details
  • periods of unavailability (e.g. holidays, sabbaticals)
  • changes in your research interests


Papers should be reviewed via our Manuscript Central site. If you encounter problems reviewing the paper, please use the online support tool by clicking the Get Help Now icon at the top of the submission screen. If this does not resolve the problem, please contact [email protected]

Referees are asked to give one of the following recommendations based on their assessment of the paper’s suitability for publication:

  • accept the paper outright
  • accept the paper subject to minor revisions being made
  • decline the paper with encouragement to resubmit following a significant rewriting of the paper
  • reject the paper outright

Referees are also asked to provide Comments to the Editor (confidential comments that will not be passed to the author) and Comments to the Author (comments that will be passed to the author to help them improve their manuscript).


All submissions should be given unbiased consideration regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, or religion of the authors. Your review should be objective; please do not make comments about the paper or authors that could cause offence.

All reviews are single-blind, i.e. although you as a referee know who the authors are, your anonymity is strictly preserved. Please do not correspond with or transmit your review directly to the authors. Please use the Comments to Editor section to make any comments that you do not wish the author to see. Any comments made in the Comments to Author section will be transmitted to the author.


Please treat the paper as confidential. Upon completion of your review, the paper may not be retained, used or cited prior to publication.

Conflict of interest

Your review should be objective. Please contact us immediately if:

  • you are in direct competition with the authors
  • you are a co-worker or collaborator with any of the authors


Research papers and rapid communications submitted to Systems Biology must record original work not previously published in the open literature or under consideration by another journal. Please inform the editors if you believe either of these to be true.

The editors are particularly grateful when referees draw their attention to papers to which proper reference has not been made and to papers that are closely related.

Referees who have been sent review papers should judge the papers on their coverage of the subject and that the reference list is comprehensive.


The editors encourage the publication of papers that describe work of high calibre engineering and science. Where a paper has a high theoretical or mathematical content, it is essential that its application is specified rather than given in general terms.


Referees are asked to consider whether the author presents the material logically, in clear and direct English, and in as concise a manner as possible. Referees are asked to consider most carefully whether any paper can be shortened, and to give instructions as to how this may be achieved. In particular, referees are asked to consider whether all the mathematics is essential or whether parts can be deleted of relegated to an appendix or supplementary material.

The illustrations supplied to the referee should be sufficiently clear for easy assessment but need not be of sufficient quality for reproduction (authors are asked to submit high-quality material for production upon acceptance).

Graphs and other illustrations should be clearly drawn and labelled. Graphs are an effective method of displaying results although too much information in one graph can cause confusion, and may not be easily reproducible in production. Tabular information should not duplicate graphical information.


If there is sufficient agreement between the referees, the editor will make one of the following decisions:

  • accept the paper outright
  • accept the paper subject to major revisions being made
  • decline the paper with encouragement to resubmit following a significant rewriting of the paper
  • reject the paper outright

If the paper is accepted subject to major revisions being made, the editor may return the paper to referees. If you are willing to review a revised paper please indicate this in your review.


Please use the following criteria to assess the paper you have been asked to review:

  • Scientific merit: is the work scientifically rigorous, accurate and correct?
  • Motivation: does the problem considered have a sound motivation? All papers should clearly demonstrate the scientific interest of the results. Papers should not rely solely on previous literature or novelty to motivate publication
  • Originality and justification: is the work relevant and novel? Does the work contain significant additional material to that already published and has its value been demonstrated?
  • Referencing: has reference been made to the most recent and most appropriate work? Is the present work set in the context of the previous work? Is there a balance of references from archival material (journals and conferences) and informal but up to date sources (websites, manuals and reports)?
  • Balance: is the overall balance and structure of the paper good? Should the authors concentrate more on a specific area of the paper, or are there sections which are unnecessary and which could be reduced or eliminated?
  • Appropriateness: is the material appropriate to the scope of the journal?
  • Clarity: is the English clear and well-written? Poorly written English may obscure the scientific merit of your paper. Are the ideas expressed clearly and concisely? Are the concepts understandable? Is the discussion written in a way that is easy to read and understand?
  • Length: Manuscripts should generally be between 3000 and 4000 words in length (10,000 words for reviews).
  • Title: is it adequate and appropriate for the content of the article?
  • Abstract: does it contain the essential information of the article? Is it complete? Is it suitable for inclusion by itself in an abstracting service?
  • Diagrams, figures, tables and captions: are they clear and essential? Are all figures and tables labelled and referred to in the text?
  • Screenshots: can these be clearly read? If the lettering is too small, ensure that each picture is enlarged so that everything can be read.
  • Graphs and tables: are these clear and necessary? Where several graphs are on one set of axes, are they clearly distinguishable? Are the numbers in the tables readily understandable? Explanations should be in the caption, or in the immediately surrounding text.
  • Mathematics: is the mathematics necessary? Does it use commonly understood symbols? Are equations numbered if referred to in the text?
  • Related work: related work should be mentioned at the end of the paper (before the conclusion).
  • Conclusion: does the paper contain a carefully written conclusion, summarising what has been learned and why it is interesting and useful?