We at PRL work continuously to ensure that the journal fulfills its mission, to allow readers to “learn about all the latest significant developments in physics research” . To accomplish this the journal must publish only the best papers, must not turn away suitable papers, and must act with reasonable promptness.
The present PRL could do better in these areas, and thus we must move toward a journal that is more selective and more efficient. To do this we will reinvigorate application of the criteria of importance and breadth of interest for published Letters. We intend a reaffirmation of the standards that have been in place , but which, for various reasons, have been applied with variable rigor over the years. As we do this we will aim, insofar as is feasible, to make editorial decisions quickly, to speed both publication of accepted Letters and the shift to other journals of papers not accepted. Finally, we expect that a renewed community focus on the basis for PRL criteria will lead to a better manuscript selection process.
This undertaking must include efforts by authors and referees, as well as by editors. Authors should submit only accounts of results that substantially advance a particular field, open a significant new area of research, or solve a critical outstanding problem thereby paving the way for notable progress in an existing field. Referees must judge breadth of interest based on the impact a result will have both in its field and across field boundaries, and, if they conclude that a paper meets PRL standards, they must explain why. We editors must be more stringent both in our own evaluation of manuscripts and in our interpretation of referee reports. In particular, we will require reports recommending publication to supply compelling reasons why a manuscript should be published as a Letter, and not in a more specialized journal. We note that the Physical Review is an excellent venue for high-quality results in all areas of physics, and an appropriately complete report will support more expeditious transfer to the appropriate journal.
To facilitate these efforts, we have revised our Policies and Practices and our Referee Response form. We have also, via this editorial and by other means, informed the physics community that PRL will be more discriminating in accepting manuscripts. The renewed criteria apply as of 1 July 2009, but naturally it will take some time for all authors, referees, and editors to adjust. When all parties adopt the reaffirmed PRL criteria, we imagine that it will result in a significant change in the number of the Letters we publish, though we will not apply any sort of numerical target to govern this reduction. We realize that these changes will lead to disappointment for some. We are convinced, however, that a more selective PRL will provide the best venue for accounts of the most crucial physics research.