Editorial: Higher Standards: The Role of Authors (April 11, 2003)
In our previous editorial of December 10, 2001, we described the need to raise the standards for publication in Physical Review Letters. As noted there, despite the fact that acceptance rates have not increased, the journal has grown because of an increase in submissions, which have doubled since 1988.
In that editorial, we noted that raising standards requires the "cooperation of authors and referees as well as the diligence of Editors". We have revised the referee response form and encouraged in our various communications higher standards on the part of referees. Preliminary indications are that this has had a modest effect in the desired direction.
The present Editorial is largely devoted to your role as authors in the effort to raise standards, because that process starts with you. Prior to submittal, ask yourself if the manuscript contains results of sufficient importance to its field or to related fields that a researcher in those fields should not miss learning about it. Further, be sure that the manuscript both contains and conveys to a general reader information that makes the paper of sufficient importance and interest for PRL. If you find that you cannot clearly make this case, you should submit instead to a specialized journal.
You may conclude that your paper is appropriate, and submit it to PRL. Nevertheless, the first response that you receive might be a letter from the Editor indicating that the manuscript is not PRL material. Please consider such a judgment carefully, as experience has shown that the Editors' initial assessment regarding the ultimate disposition of such manuscripts is rather accurate. Upon receipt of such an evaluation, you may well decide to submit to a different journal, or may try to improve the paper to meet better the Physical Review Letters criteria. Whatever you decide, please be mindful of the fact that the Editor makes this judgment based on the restrictive selection criteria of Physical Review Letters, and has done so in an effort to expedite the editorial process for all concerned. He or she does not intend to imply anything else about the quality of your work.
Following the above process, you may yet decide to pursue publication as a Letter and, if the Editor is persuaded, your paper will be sent out for peer review. During the review process you may receive referee reports that are critical of your manuscript. As you respond to these reports, please recall that prior publication in PRL of a paper of similar or lesser quality is not an argument for acceptance. Similarly, please note also that neither the importance of the field nor the fact that Letters on the same topic have been published previously is a convincing argument for publication. The essential point is that your paper must make a timely and important contribution to current research.
Two thirds of the time the reviews lead the Editor to conclude that publication in PRL is unwarranted, so please be aware that there is a good chance that your paper will be found unsuitable. We recognize the many pressures that lead authors to strive for publication in PRL, and it is here that we have the greatest need for your informed cooperation. We ask that you resubmit after a rejection only if you find that you can make a compelling case that the paper belongs in PRL, as opposed to a specialized journal.
Our goal is to enable Physical Review Letters to continue to serve the community by providing a premier venue for publication in all areas of physics. We are certain that this goal is well served by an increase in the quality of published Letters. Your active participation in this effort is essential.