How peer review is evolving to meet new article formats

A new kind of article is becoming increasingly popular on the publishing scene; microarticles are short papers containing useful data, descriptions or other valuable research output that may otherwise go unpublished.

Elsevier has invested in a number of journals to accommodate this new format. February this year saw the launch of the open access journal, MethodsX, which publishes the small, but important, customizations researchers make to methodological protocols. While in 2013, we launched the open access journal Genomics Data; designed to complement traditional research papers, its signature Data in Brief articles provide thorough descriptions of genomic data for other researchers to reuse or reproduce. An existing open access journal, Results in Physics, has just also introduced microarticles to capture orphaned elements of physics research.

Below, the publishers of these journals outline how these projects have offered an opportunity to rethink the traditional peer-review process.

MethodsX – Andrea Hoogenkamp-O’Brien and Irene Kanter-Schlifke

It was while reminiscing about our days as researchers that we came up with the idea of MethodsX. We recalled some of the frustrations we had experienced, including the fact that the time and effort invested in establishing methodologies behind experiments often remains unacknowledged.

This poses a problem to the authors – who don't get the appropriate credit – as well as to the community as a whole, who are missing out on this important information. Others working in the same field may reinvent the wheel without knowing that this work has already been done by somebody else. We hope to change that with MethodsX, which welcomes submissions from all scientific areas carrying out experimental research.

Because this journal is a true community initiative – a journal 'by researchers, for researchers' – we quickly decided that the reviewers needed to be involved and acknowledged in a way that differs from most journals.

How does the MethodsX review process work?

All manuscripts are peer-reviewed prior to publication, and the first accepted articles are already live on ScienceDirect. As the content of MethodsX is purely technical, so is the review. Reviewers are asked to fill in a set form and answer simple questions related to the technical procedure, such as:

  • Are the procedures suggested by the authors plausible?
  • Are the methods clear and logical to follow, so that someone else could reproduce them easily?

This has helped to keep the reviews consistent and focused on the technical work described. They also require minimal time investment from the reviewers while providing meaningful feedback to authors.

Also, reviewers are asked to recommend a decision on the manuscript. In most cases, the managing editor will follow their recommendations; where there are conflicting reviewer recommendations, the editorial board will be asked to assist.

The MethodsX credo: Acknowledgement and transparency

One of the core goals of this journal is to ensure everyone involved receives the appropriate acknowledgement and credit. For authors, the credit received is more obvious - and more public - in the form of a published article.

However, we also appreciate the reviewers who provide valuable input to each submission. The journal therefore publishes a reviewer "thank you" note in each article, and reviewers are given the option to be individually named in the acknowledgement.

Of course, if reviewers wish to remain anonymous that is not a problem, but we are happy to see that some reviewers have already chosen to have their names published. This not only makes the process more transparent but allows us, as a journal, to formally thank them for their feedback. We also invite reviewers to submit an article to MethodsX with the publication fee waived.

Interested in publishing in MethodsX? See or contact us at

Interested in becoming a reviewer? Contact us at

Genomics Data – Paige Shaklee*

Genomics DataGenomic datasets quickly consume terabytes of computer storage with more information than we have the capacity to fully analyze or understand. As a result, scientists will often publish an article about only a small piece or particular aspect of their data, leaving the rest ripe for interpretation by others. 

Although this precious genomic data is uploaded into public repositories, sadly, few people dare to touch it because it is too complicated to understand. Data files are often mislabeled, data may be raw or analyzed and analysis from dataset to dataset is highly variable, experimental subtleties are not mentioned, and software code used to filter through data is not available.

Genomics Data's signature 'Data in Brief' articles aim to solve these problems. They provide an avenue for researchers to bring their data – along with the details necessary to understand and reuse it – to the forefront. 

Data in Brief — how it works

Two essential components of genomic research are:

  1. The data, available in a public repository: supports a research article but is not published or copyrighted as a part of that research article.
  2. The research article: an interpretation of the data.

The Data in Brief articles support these elements by providing a thorough description of the data, including quality-control checks and base-level analysis.

How are Data in Brief articles reviewed?

The editorial board is responsible for reviewing Data in Brief articles, which keeps average decision times down to one week. Members are all experts in the field and can assess whether or not the article has been constructed in a way that facilitates data reuse.

Among the questions they ask when they review a Data in Brief are:

  • Has a direct link to the deposited data been included?
  • Does the manuscript contain the required specifications table, which provides essential information such as the source of the sample and the format of the data, etc.?
  • Is the article clear, e.g. are essential pieces of the experimental design or methods either missing or unclear?
  • Are figures or tables required and is any computer code used to analyze the data provided?
  • Do the authors need to make revisions?

If the editorial board member reviewing the Data in Brief has any concerns about the paper, they consult directly with their fellow editorial board colleagues.

Interested in publishing in Genomics Data? To submit a Data in Brief article:

  1. Fill in this template.
  2. Submit the document and any computer code used to analyze the data though the journal's online submission system.

You can find out more about Genomics Data via the journal's homepage or directly contact Paige Shaklee with any questions.

* This section is based on a recent article in Elsevier Connect

Results in Physics – Jan Willem Wijnen

Results in PhysicsThere are plenty of good physics journals that publish full papers describing an extensive and complete piece of research. But, as we all know, a lot of experiments, calculations and measurements never grow into complete studies. While the results may be of interest, until now they could only be published if time and effort was invested in developing them.

Results in Physics has introduced microarticles to solve this problem. These microarticles can take the form of a single dataset from an experiment; the description of an experimental set-up or method; a failed experiment; or a hypothesis.

Peer review for Results in Physics' microarticles

All microarticle manuscripts still need to undergo peer review and that process is organized by the journal Editor-in-Chief, Professor Jürgen Buschow. The peer-review process is similar to the one followed for a regular research paper, but the instructions to reviewers differ slightly. Each reviewer receives a short list of questions that require them to judge whether the information in the article is:

  • New
  • Well-described
  • Scientifically sound

This is important because unless we clearly explain the rationale behind the microarticles, reviewers could judge that they are not important enough for publication.

The microarticle should also contain essential elements such as the paper title, author information, abstract and references. The result is that reviewers are not asked to judge the relevance or importance of a microarticle - that is left up to the readers to decide.

Interested in publishing in Results in Physics? Submit your paper via the journal's online submission system.

Author biographies

Dr. Irene Kanter-SchlifkeDr. Irene Kanter-Schlifke

After studying Biology at the University of Vienna (including a semester in Montpellier, France), Dr. Kanter-Schlifke went on to do her PhD at the Section for Restorative Neurology at Lund University in Sweden. She then worked in the pharmaceutical industry in The Netherlands with Janssen Biologicals in Leiden before joining Elsevier as a publisher for journals in Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since last year, she has moved on to be Executive Publisher, Psychology and Cognitive Science.

Dr. Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'BrienDr. Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien

Dr. Hoogenkamp-O'Brien studied Microbiology at the University College of Cork in Ireland and went on to do her PhD at London South Bank University. She then did a four-year postdoc at the University of Amsterdam before joining the FEMS society journal office in Delft, The Netherlands. She joined Elsevier in 2010, first working as Editorial Communications Manager in Publishing Services, then moving to publishing as a publisher in Biotechnology and is now Executive Publisher, Biomedicine.

Dr. Paige ShakleeDr. Paige Shaklee

Dr. Shaklee made her way from studying Physics at Colorado School of Mines to Nanoscience at TU Delft to Biophysics at Leiden University, where she received her PhD. After doing postdoctoral research in Biochemistry at Stanford University, she joined Cell Press in 2011 as the Editor of Trends in Biotechnology. Last year, she joined Elsevier's Biochemistry publishing team as a publisher for the Genomics portfolio. She is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dr. Jan Willem WijnenDr. Jan Willem Wijnen

After obtaining a PhD in Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen, Dr. Wijnen worked as a publisher and project manager for several publishers including Kluwer Academic Publishers, Springer, Sage and Brill. He joined Elsevier in 2010 as Executive Publisher, Surfaces and Interfaces within the Physics team.