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This is an abridged version of the organization-wide PLOS Editorial and Publishing Policies.

PLOS ONE  Editorial Guidelines

  1. Publication Ethics
  2. Sharing Materials and Data
  3. Copyright and Licensing
  4. Publication Fees
  5. Peer Review Procedures
  6. Policies for Specific Research Areas

1. Publication Ethics

PLOS ONE is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). We abide by its Code of Conduct and aim to adhere to its Best Practice Guidelines.

We vigorously investigate allegations of publication misconduct, both before and after publication, and we reserve the right to contact authors' institutions, funders, or regulatory bodies if needed. If we find conclusive evidence of misconduct, we will take steps to correct the scientific record, which may include issuing a correction or retraction.

Authors are expected to be aware of, and comply with, best practice in publication ethics, specifically with regard to authorship, dual submission, plagiarism, figure manipulation, competing interests, and compliance with standards of research ethics.

In cases of suspected or alleged misconduct, we will follow COPE standards and practices and may seek advice from the COPE forum if needed.

Any concerns about the above should be addressed to the editorial office at plosone [at] plos.org.

More extensive resources are available from COPE and World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is not acceptable in PLOS ONE submissions. PLOS ONE is part of CrossCheck's initiative and uses plagiarism detection software to verify the originality of submitted manuscripts. If plagiarism is identified, we will follow COPE guidelines.

Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  • Directly copying text from other sources
  • Copying ideas, images, or data from other sources
  • Reusing text from your own previous publications
  • Using an idea from another source with slightly modified language

If a manuscript contains text that is directly copied from another source, this text must be written in quotation marks and the original source must be properly cited. If a study's design or the manuscript's structure or language are derived from previous works, these works must be cited.

If plagiarism is detected during the peer review process, the manuscript may be rejected. If plagiarism is detected after publication, we reserve the right to issue a correction or retract the paper, as appropriate. We reserve the right to inform authors' institutions about plagiarism detected either before or after publication.

Image Manipulation

Image files must not be manipulated or adjusted in any way that could lead to misinterpretation of the information present in the original image. Inappropriate manipulation includes but is not limited to:

  • Introducing, enhancing, moving, or removing specific feature(s) within an image
  • Unmarked grouping of images that should otherwise have been presented separately (for example, from different parts of the same gel, or from different gels, fields, or exposures)
  • Adjusting brightness, contrast, or color balance to obscure, eliminate, or misrepresent any information

If inappropriate image manipulation is identified during the peer review process, we reserve the right to ask for the original data and, if that is not satisfactory, the manuscript may be rejected. If inappropriate image manipulation is identified after publication, we reserve the right to ask for the original data and, if that is not satisfactory, to issue a correction or retract the paper, as appropriate. We reserve the right to inform authors' institutions about inappropriate image manipulation detected either before or after publication.

Competing Interests

All individuals involved with a manuscript, including authors, academic editors, reviewers, and commenters must declare all potential competing interests.

PLOS defines a competing interest as anything that interferes with, or could be perceived as interfering with, the complete and objective presentation, peer review, editorial decision-making, or publication of a manuscript. Competing interests can be financial, professional, or personal, and can arise in relation to an organization or an individual. Examples may be found below.

As a guide, any competing interest that arose within the five years either before or after the commencement of the research described, within five years of the article being written, or within five years of events described in the article should be declared. Interests outside this time-frame might also be relevant; if so, they should also be declared so that their relevance can be judged by the journal editorial team.

Author Competing Interests:

We may decide not to publish a paper if we believe that the competing interests declared by the authors have compromised the objectivity or validity of the research, analyses, or interpretations in the paper. If we find that authors have competing interests that were not declared upon submission, the manuscript may be rejected. If an undeclared competing interest comes to light after publication, we will issue a formal correction or retract the paper, as appropriate.

Editor and Reviewer Competing Interests:

Editors — academic or professional, paid or unpaid — must not review or handle a paper if they have a potential competing interest. Examples may be found below. Reviewers must declare their own competing interests and if necessary disqualify themselves from involvement in the assessment of a paper.

In particular, reviewers and editors must not be involved in the peer review process if:

  • They work at the same institution or organization as an author, currently or recently
  • They collaborate with an author, currently or recently
  • They have published with an author during the past 5 years
  • They have a personal relationship with an author that does not allow them to evaluate the manuscript objectively

Authors must not suggest reviewers or editors who will have competing interests.

Financial Competing Interests:

Examples of financial competing interests include, but are not limited to:

  • Ownership of stocks or shares
  • Paid employment or consultancy
  • Board membership
  • Patent applications (pending or actual), including individual applications or those belonging to the institution to which the authors are affiliated and from which the authors may benefit
  • Research grants (from any source, restricted or unrestricted)
  • Travel grants and honoraria for speaking or participation at meetings
  • Gifts of any kind

Non-Financial Competing Interests:

Examples of non-financial competing interests include but are not limited to:

    Professional:
  • Acting as an expert witness
  • Membership in a government or other advisory board
  • Relationship (paid or unpaid) with organizations and funding bodies including nongovernmental organizations, research institutions, or charities
  • Membership of lobbying or advocacy organizations
  • Writing or consulting for an educational company

    Personal:
  • Personal relationships (i.e., friend, spouse, family member, current or previous mentor, adversary) with individuals involved in the submission or evaluation of a paper, such as authors, reviewers, editors, or members of the editorial board
  • Personal convictions (political, religious, ideological, or other) related to a paper's topic that might interfere with an unbiased publication process (at the stage of authorship, peer review, editorial decision-making, or publication)

For more information on PLOS policies regarding non-financial competing interests, see this PLOS Medicine editorial.

Authorship Criteria

To qualify for authorship, one should contribute to all of the following:

  1. Conception and design of the work, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data
  2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  3. Final approval of the version to be published.
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work

All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, and all those who qualify should be listed. Each author must have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content. Those who contributed to the work but do not qualify for authorship should be listed in the acknowledgements.

When a large group or center has conducted the work, the author list should include the individuals whose contributions meet the criteria defined above, as well as the group name.

All authors must approve the final manuscript before submission. PLOS ONE will contact all authors by email at submission to ensure that they are aware of the submission of the manuscript.

See the PLOS Editorial and Publishing Policies for the full details of our criteria for authorship.

Writing Professionals

Authors must declare any involvement by any professional writer involved in writing a manuscript. They should be included in the author list if they meet the authorship criteria above, or in the acknowledgements if they do not. We encourage authors to consult the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) guidelines on the role of medical writers (PDF). Please contact the editorial office at plosone [at] plos.org for further clarification if needed.

Authors who believe their manuscripts would benefit from professional editing are encouraged to use professional language or copyediting services prior to submission. These services can be found on the web using search terms like "scientific editing service" or "manuscript editing service."

Changes in Authorship

If any changes to the list of authors of a manuscript are necessary after the initial submission but before publication, the corresponding author must contact the journal staff at plosone [at] plos.org and provide a clear reason for the change. If the change to the authorship list is appropriate and in keeping with the guidelines given above, the corresponding author will be asked to provide written confirmation that all other authors listed on the manuscript at that time consent. We will individually inform anyone who is added or removed from the author list.

Policies Regarding Funding Source

PLOS ONE will not consider papers in which any of the research costs or authors' salaries have been funded, in whole or in part, by a tobacco company. For a PLOS Medicine editorial describing the reasoning behind this policy, click here.

We support GPP2 Good Publication Practice for Communicating Company Sponsored Medical Research.

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2. Sharing Materials and Data

Publication is conditional upon the agreement of the authors to make freely available any materials and information described in their publication that may be reasonably requested by others.

When submitting a manuscript online, authors must provide a Data Availability Statement describing compliance with PLOS's policy. If the article is accepted for publication, the data availability statement will be published as part of the final article.

Additional explanation regarding the Data Policy is available at http://www.plosone.org/static/policies#sharing.

PLOS ONE will not consider a study if the conclusions depend solely on the analysis of proprietary data. If proprietary data were used, and the authors are unable to make these data public, then the paper must include an analysis of public data that validates the conclusions so others can reproduce the analysis.

If restrictions on access to data or materials come to light after publication, PLOS ONE reserves the right to post a correction, contact the authors' institutions and funders, or retract the publication. . Readers should contact plosone [at] plos.org if they experience any difficulty obtaining materials or data from PLOS ONE papers.

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3. Copyright and Licensing

Open Access Agreement

Upon submitting an article, authors are asked to indicate their agreement to abide by an open access Creative Commons license (CC-BY). Under the terms of this license, authors retain ownership of the copyright of their articles. However, the license permits any user to download, print out, extract, reuse, archive, and distribute the article, so long as appropriate credit is given to the authors and the source of the work. The license ensures that the article will be available as widely as possible and that the article can be included in any scientific archive.

US Government Authors

Papers authored by one or more US government employees are licensed under a Creative Commons public domain license (CC0), which allows unlimited distribution and reuse of the article for any lawful purpose.

Images and Figures

Submitted manuscripts should not contain any images or figures that have already been published, previously copyrighted, or that contain proprietary image data (e.g., many maps and satellite images). This can cause serious copyright concerns. If authors must include previously published figures or images, they must obtain express written permission from the copyright holder to publish the images under the CC-BY license.

If authors wish to publish material obtained or gifted from third parties (e.g., writers, illustrators, photographers, videographers, artists, etc.), they must obtain express written permission from the creator to publish the material under the CC-BY license, with copyright held by the authors.

Authors must also take special care when submitting manuscripts that contain potentially identifying images of people. Identifying information should not be included in the manuscript unless the information is crucial and the individual has provided written consent by completing the Consent Form for Publication in a PLOS Journal (PDF).

Further information about policies regarding figures can be found in the Figure Guidelines.

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4. Publication Fees

To provide Open Access, PLOS uses a business model to offset expenses—including those of peer review management, journal production and online hosting and archiving—by charging a publication fee to the authors, institutions or funders for each article published.

Publication fees vary by journal and are payable for articles upon acceptance.

PLOS believes that lack of funds should not be a barrier to Open Access publication. Since its inception, PLOS has provided individual fee support and institutional fee support programs. The current offering includes:

PLOS Global Participation Initiative (Low- and Middle-Income Country Assistance)

Authors' research which is funded primarily (50% or more of the work contained within the article) by an institution or organization from eligible low- and middle-income countries will receive partial (group 2 countries) or full (group 1 countries) fee funding paid by the PLOS Global Participation Initiative (GPI). Group 2 PLOS GPI country authors who need to request additional support should apply for PLOS Publication Fee Assistance instead of the PLOS GPI.

PLOS Publication Fee Assistance (PFA)

Publication Fee Assistance is intended for authors who demonstrate financial need. Information about an applicant's application status for fee assistance will not be disclosed to journal editors or reviewers. PLOS publication decisions will continue to be based solely on editorial criteria.

PLOS Institutional Fee Support Programs

PLOS currently offers two institutional programs to support Open Access scientific publishing. Participating institutions have arrangements with PLOS to administer payment for partial or full publication fees for their institutions' authors. To be eligible, authors must be a corresponding author affiliated with the institution or agency in the Institutional Account Program (fully paid or restricted) or Institutional Membership Program (10% publication fee discount). Authors who are eligible for Institutional Membership Program discounts and need to request additional support should apply for PLOS PFA instead of the Institutional Membership Program.

Additional External Funds

Authors may also be eligible for direct funding from their institution or funder, which may be different from the PLOS Institutional programs. See additional Open Access funds for examples. To confirm amounts and details of funding and eligibility, contact the organization as indicated.

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5. Peer Review Procedures

Overview

All manuscripts submitted to PLOS ONE are subject to rigorous review. This review consists of the following steps:

  1. Initial submissions are reviewed by internal staff to ensure adherence to PLOS ONE policies, including ethical requirements for human and animal experimentation.
  2. Submissions are then assigned to an Academic Editor for evaluation based on the PLOS ONE Publication Criteria.
  3. The Academic Editor decides whether reviews from additional experts are needed to evaluate the manuscript. The majority of PLOS ONE submissions are evaluated by two external reviewers, but it is up to the Academic Editor to determine the number of reviews required.
  4. After evaluation, the Academic Editor chooses between the following decisions:
    • Accept
    • Minor Revision
    • Major Revision
    • Reject
  5. If the decision is Minor Revision or Major Revision, authors have 45 days to resubmit the revised manuscript. Authors may contact plosone [at] plos.org if they require an extension.
  6. Upon resubmission, the Academic Editor may choose to send the manuscript back to external reviewers, or may render a decision based on personal expertise.

Authors may submit a formal appeal for rejected submissions. Appeal requests must be made in writing to plosone [at] plos.org with the word "appeal" in the subject line. Authors must provide detailed reasons for the appeal and point-by-point responses to the reviewers' and/or Academic Editor's comments. Decisions on appeals are final without exception. Priority is given to new submissions, so the appeal process may take longer than the original submission process.

Manuscripts Disputing Published Work

For manuscripts disputing previously published work, it is PLOS ONE policy to invite input from the disputed author during the peer review process. This procedure is aimed at ensuring a thorough, transparent, and productive review process.

If the disputed author chooses to submit a review, it must be returned in a timely fashion and contain a full declaration of all competing interests. The Academic Editor will consider any such reviews in light of the competing interest.

Authors submitting manuscripts disputing previous work should explain the relationship between the manuscripts in their cover letter, and will be required to confirm that they accept the conditions of this review policy before the manuscript is considered further.

Related Manuscripts

Upon submission, authors must confirm that the manuscript, or any related manuscript, is not currently under consideration or accepted elsewhere. If related work has been submitted to PLOS ONE or elsewhere, authors must include a copy with the submitted article. Reviewers will be asked to comment on the overlap between related submissions.

We strongly discourage the unnecessary division of related work into separate manuscripts, and we will not consider manuscripts that are divided into "parts." Each submission to PLOS ONE must be written as an independent unit and should not rely on any work that has not already been accepted for publication. If related manuscripts are submitted to PLOS ONE, the authors may be advised to combine them into a single manuscript at the editor's discretion.

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6. Policies for Specific Research Areas

Human Subject Research

All research involving human participants must have been approved by the authors' Institutional Review Board (IRB) or by equivalent ethics committee(s), and must have been conducted according to the principles expressed in the Declaration of Helsinki. Authors should be able to submit, upon request, a statement from the IRB or ethics committee indicating approval of the research. We reserve the right to reject work that we believe has not been conducted to a high ethical standard, even when formal approval has been obtained.

Subjects must have been properly instructed and have indicated that they consent to participate by signing the appropriate informed consent paperwork. Authors may be asked to submit a blank, sample copy of a subject consent form. If consent was verbal instead of written, or if consent could not be obtained, the authors must explain the reason in the manuscript, and the use of verbal consent or the lack of consent must have been approved by the IRB or ethics committee.

All efforts should be made to protect patient privacy and anonymity. Identifying information, including photos, should not be included in the manuscript unless the information is crucial and the individual has provided written consent by completing the Consent Form for Publication in a PLOS Journal (PDF). More information about patient privacy, anonymity, and informed consent can be found in the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Privacy and Confidentiality guidelines.

Manuscripts should conform to the following reporting guidelines:

  • Studies of diagnostic accuracy: STARD
  • Observational studies: STROBE
  • Microarray experiments: MIAME
  • Other types of health-related research: Consult the EQUATOR for appropriate reporting guidelines

See the PLOS ONE Manuscript Guidelines for detailed instructions for submitting manuscripts describing human subject research.

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Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are subject to all policies regarding human research. PLOS ONE follows the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of a clinical trial:

...any research study that prospectively assigns human participants or groups of humans to one or more health-related interventions to evaluate the effects on health outcomes...Interventions include but are not restricted to drugs, cells and other biological products, surgical procedures, radiologic procedures, devices, behavioural treatments, process-of-care changes, preventive care, etc.

All clinical trials must be registered in one of the publicly-accessible registries approved by the WHO or ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors). Authors must provide the trial registration number. Prior disclosure of results on a clinical trial registry site will not affect consideration for publication. We reserve the right to inform authors' institutions or ethics committees, and to reject the manuscript, if we become aware of unregistered trials.

PLOS ONE supports prospective trial registration (i.e. before participant recruitment has begun) as recommended by the ICMJE's clinical trial registration policy. Where trials were not publicly registered before participant recruitment began, authors must:

  • Register all related clinical trials and confirm they have done so in the Methods section
  • Explain in the Methods the reason for failing to register before participant recruitment

Clinical trials must be reported according to the relevant reporting guidelines, i.e. CONSORT for randomized controlled trials, TREND for non-randomized trials, and other specialized guidelines as appropriate. The intervention should be described according to the requirements of the TIDieR checklist and guide. Submissions must also include the study protocol as Supporting Information, which will be published with the manuscript if accepted.

Find detailed instructions for submitting reports on clinical trials in the PLOS ONE Manuscript Guidelines.

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Animal Research

We work in consultation with the PLOS ONE Animal Research Advisory Group to develop policies. Animal Research Advisory Group members may also be consulted on individual submissions.

All research involving vertebrates or cephalopods must have approval from the authors' Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) or equivalent ethics committee(s), and must have been conducted according to applicable national and international guidelines. Approval must be received prior to beginning research. If we note differences between an IACUC-approved protocol and the methods reported in a submitted manuscript, we may report these discrepancies to the relevant institution or committee.

Where unregulated animals are used or ethics approval is not required, authors should make this clear in submitted articles and explain why ethical approval was not required. Relevant regulations that grant exemptions should be cited in full. It is the authors' responsibility to understand and comply with all relevant regulations.

We reserve the right to reject work that the editors believe has not been conducted to a high ethical standard, even if authors have obtained formal approval or approval is not required under local regulations.

Manuscripts describing studies that use death as an endpoint will be subject to additional ethical considerations, and may be rejected if they lack appropriate justification for the study or consideration of humane endpoints.

We ask authors to follow the ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments) guidelines for all submissions describing laboratory-based animal research and to upload a completed ARRIVE Guidelines Checklist to be published as supporting information. Please note that inclusion of a completed ARRIVE Checklist will be a formal requirement for publication at a later date.

Manuscripts describing research involving non-human primates must include details of animal welfare, including information about housing, feeding, and environmental enrichment, and steps taken to minimize suffering, including use of anesthesia and method of sacrifice if appropriate, in accordance with the recommendations of the Weatherall report, The use of non-human primates in research (PDF).

Find specific requirements for the methods sections of these submissions in the Manuscript Guidelines for animal studies and observational and field studies.

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Paleontology and Archaeology Research

  • Sharing of data and materials. Any specimen that is erected as a new species, described, or figured must be deposited in an accessible, permanent repository (i.e., public museum or similar institution). If study conclusions depend on specimens that do not fit these criteria, the article will be rejected under PLOS ONE's data availability criterion.

  • Reporting. Methods and specimens must be described in sufficient detail to allow the work to be reproduced. Data sets supporting statistical and phylogenetic analyses should be provided, preferably in a format that allows easy re-use.

    Specimen numbers and complete repository information, including museum name and geographic location, are requirements for publication. Locality information should be provided in the manuscript as legally allowable or a statement should be included giving details of the availability of such information to qualified researchers.

  • Ethics. PLOS ONE will not publish research on specimens that were obtained without necessary permission or were illegally exported.

Find detailed instructions for submitting reports describing paleontology and archaeology research in the Manuscript Guidelines.

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Methods, Software, Database, and Tools Papers

PLOS ONE will consider submissions that present new methods, software, or databases as the primary focus of the manuscript if they meet the following criteria:

  • Utility. The tool must be of use to the community and must present a proven advantage over existing alternatives, where applicable. Recapitulation of existing methods, software, or databases is not useful and will not be considered for publication. Combining data and/or functionalities from other sources may be acceptable, but simpler instances (i.e. presenting a subset of an already existing database) may not be considered. For software, databases, and online tools, the long-term utility should also be discussed, as relevant. This discussion may include maintenance, the potential for future growth, and the stability of the hosting, as applicable.

  • Validation. Submissions presenting methods, software, databases, or tools must demonstrate that the new tool achieves its intended purpose. If similar options already exist, the submitted manuscript must demonstrate that the new tool is an improvement over existing options in some way. This requirement may be met by including a proof-of-principle experiment or analysis; if this is not possible, a discussion of the possible applications and some preliminary analysis may be sufficient.

  • Availability. Software should be open source, deposited in an appropriate archive, and conform to the Open Source Definition. Databases must be open-access and hosted somewhere publicly accessible, and any software used to generate a database should also be open source. If relevant, databases should be open for appropriate deposition of additional data. Dependency on commercial software such as Mathematica and MATLAB does not preclude a paper from consideration, although complete open source solutions are preferred. Authors should provide a direct link to the deposited software or the database hosting site from within the paper.
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Dual Use Research of Concern

"Dual use research of concern" is defined by the NSABB (National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity) as any "biological research with legitimate scientific purpose that may be misused to pose a biologic threat to public health and/or national security." PLOS ONE is committed to the widespread dissemination of research while being sensitive to the issues of responsible publication standards. We expect that the potential risks of publishing a scientific paper will outweigh the benefits in only the rarest circumstances. On occasion, PLOS ONE reserves the right to consider manuscript submissions within this context. In addition to the usual scientific scrutiny, such submissions may also be referred to an internal PLOS Dual Use Committee for further deliberation. Authors submitting to PLOS ONE are obligated to disclose potential bioethics/dual use concerns to the journal office at the time of initial submission.

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