Guidelines for editors, navigating Scholastica and FAQs.

These guidelines are continuously evolving according to feedback from our editors, referees and authors, as well as the sporadic Scholastica update. Latest update: July 2021.

 

General aspects

Troubleshooting/admin team

Currently the Scholastica troubleshooting team consists of:

  • Eva Jelinek and Lukas Schalleck, Quantum’s editorial assistants. Eva and Lukas go through the system 2-3 times a week, and keep things rolling overall, by responding to technical questions by editors, referees and authors, sending reminders when something is delayed, going through all the tasks below marked as [admin], and notifying the executive board in unclear or urgent cases.
  • Christian Gogolin, Marcus Huber and Lídia del Rio from the executive board. We intervene occasionally: when Eva and Lukas notify us, when editors have general questions or comments about Quantum, when something needs urgent action, when a new editor is being trained, and when we wake up at 6am wondering how the journal is doing. Lídia is using the Admin account, while Christian and Marcus have personal editor accounts due to COIs with submissions.

 

Roles of different editors

This was changed in July 2021 to reflect the new roles and workflow.

  • Editorial assistants (admins) receive new submissions, check that they meet minimal requirements, and assign editors. They also do all the troubleshooting described above.
  • Coordinating editors consult when there are questions about science and good practices, for example ‘is this manuscript above threshold for Quantum in this field?’ ‘is this the right editor for the manuscript?’, ‘how do I make a decision given these conflicting reviews?’, ‘I am junior to the author and am afraid of repercussions if I reject the paper, what can I do?’ Every week, there’s one coordinating editor on call for questions specifically about manuscript assignment.
  • Editors are in charge of specific papers, reading them, making a first decision, sending them out to review, weighing in referee reports, and making a final decision.

 

Absences

It’s ok to take breaks! The wellbeing of our editors comes first. If you go through a busy or difficult period at any point (examples: writing a grant, reviewing for a conference, holidays, family duties, burnout, too much on your plate, mental health hardships, just need a break), you can just let the admins know that you won’t be able to handle submissions for X weeks/months, and we will take care of it, no questions asked. You don’t have to tell us why. Towards the end of that period, we’ll get in touch to check if you are ready to return to action. You can let us know by email or any other form of communication (including via third parties).

If an editor is unresponsive to emails for over two weeks, without warning us that they would be absent, we will react at two levels:

  • On the editorial side, we will take measures to ensure that their manuscripts under review don’t get stalled; these measures may include transferring the manuscripts to other editors. We will also mark this editor as “currently absent” so that the coordinating editors won’t assign them new manuscripts.
  • Internally, in the executive board, we will assume that the editor is not doing ok, that they are going through a difficult time. The reasoning is: if this was a planned break, or the editor was simply very busy, they’d be able to notify us. Empirically, this is what happened most of the time. We will try to reach out to the editor and see if they would like support. We won’t insist, if the editor chooses not to be contacted.

Note: If you are not doing ok, know that you can always reach out to a member of the executive board. We will never judge, and any information shared is confidential. We can help. We may not be able to pay our editors, but at least we can look after each other.

 

Acceptance criteria

Quantum is a highly selective journal, publishing both original research and review articles, theoretical and experimental. Correct but incremental work is below threshold. For original research, either a very significant technical or conceptual contribution or a nice combination of both is necessary for acceptance in Quantum. Absence of negative reviews is not in itself sufficient for acceptance; referees should make a case for why a work deserves to be published.

Quantum aims to select works that significantly advance the particular sub-field of quantum science, and provide evidence that their methods or results go significantly beyond the state of the art (especially for empirical works).

Selection criteria:

  • Technical correctness.
  • Sound motivation of the work.
  • Significance.
  • Clarity of presentation.

Guiding question: would I recommend this paper to a student or colleague who is working/interested in the topic?

Not selection criteria:

  • Expected number of citations.
  • Wide scope  / aiming at an interdisciplinary audience. In general, if a paper is of great interest to a small number of experts, this is in scope.
  • Format constraints. That being said, the paper should be well written.

Examples of papers in scope:

In response to editors’ queries, we will keep updating this list with kinds of (non-obvious) papers that are in scope for publication in Quantum. See also the full list of papers published in Quantum.

  • A clever solution to a difficult, reasonably well known, and long-open technical question of narrow scope. Broad interest is appreciated, but not a necessary criterion for acceptance as per our editorial policies.
  • A timely, comprehensive review.

In case of doubt, always check with other editors before making a decision.

 

Editorial discussion forum

We use the manuscript Quantum Editorial Board Communication for discussions among editors and admins regarding the editorial process and Scholastica.  (Links will only work if you are logged in to Scholastica as an editor.)

If you have a general question, comment or suggestion that may be of interest to more editors, start a discussion there. If it’s a question regarding a specific manuscript, start a discussion on the manuscript’s page. Make sure that the admins are CCed in these discussions.

 

 

Workflow of manuscripts

This was changed in July 2021 to reflect the new roles and workflow.

Manuscript assignment

New manuscripts are assigned to the editorial assistants.

The assistants:

  1. Check if the paper is on the arXiv. If it is not, desk reject, with the template “desk rejection (not on arXiv)”.
  2. Check if the authors suggested editors (in the field “suggested referees”). If so, check if there’s one of them without many assigned papers, and ask them if they can take the paper.
  3. Check if keywords match the expertise of some of the editors. If so, ask one of them if they can handle this submission.
  4. If they cannot find an editor with the above steps, contact the coordinator of the week and give them a todo: find an editor, explaining which ones you’ve tried so far.
  5. Once an editor says yes, change the assigned editor to them (if they haven’t done it themselves).

Coordinator of the week: If you’re given this assignment by the assistants, please have a quick check to see that the paper meets basic criteria. If it’s an obvious rejection, make that decision. Else, try to find an editor (ask first).

Assistants: Check once a week if there are coordinators with assigned papers, and if so, see if they need any help.

Editors: Only accept to handle papers in topics where you are very comfortable (i.e. a paper that you could act as a referee for). By saying yes you commit to reading the paper within 1-2 weeks. Exceptions: you can handle papers tangent to your expertise if a coordinator asks you as a favour, because it has been very difficult to find a suitable editor. If you are assigned (or first accept to handle) a paper and for some reason later realise that you cannot handle it (too busy, lack of expertise, conflict of interest), please reassign it back to the assistant immediately, and write them a note on the “discussions” tab to let them know.  You can also suggest alternative editors from the board.

 

First stage of review:  editorial call on desk rejection

In the following “you” are the editor who is assigned a submission. We expect editors to use their own judgement as experts in their field. We also expect them to consult with each other in borderline cases, and when they first join the journal. 

Read the paper: If you choose to handle the paper, you are expected to read it within 1-2 weeks. You don’t have to read the proofs or technical appendices, but you should be able to understand the results and assumptions. You should also be able to judge the clarity of exposition and intellectual honesty of the paper. The idea is that you will make a call on the scientific significance of the paper.

Ask questions: If you have questions about these or how the paper fits in the field, you are encouraged to write to the authors for clarifications. You are also very  welcome to consult with other editors in your field, to gauge significance against the usual acceptance threshold. These editorial discussions are the backbone of the peer review process at Quantum: they ensure that we have smooth acceptance criteria across the journal, and are usually stimulating. You can do this by starting an editor discussion on the manuscripts page. Include only 1-2 editors, to avoid filling everyone’s inboxes.

New editors: Always consult with 1-2 other editors (including a coordinator) for your first 3-4 submissions, until you have a good feeling of how the acceptance criteria apply in your field.

Make a first decision, out of:

  1.  Send it out to referees. This is when you’re fairly convinced about the significance of the paper (according to the acceptance criteria above), and want experts to check the proofs, techniques and relation to other work more closely.
  2. Send it back to the authors (“revise and resubmit”). When you think that the paper could in principle be published but the authors should first change something about the presentation or clarify some results before you subject referees to read it. You are encouraged to be specific to tell the authors what needs to be changed.
  3. Desk reject. When your assessment is that the paper is too weak for publication, even after revision. The idea is that authors don’t have to wait months for the referee reports before a rejection based on significance. Justify the reasons for rejection in the decision letter (see templates), and mention if it was discussed among several editors.

Anonymous desk rejections: If you worry that the authors could retaliate after a desk rejection, ask one of the coordinators to send out the rejection letter for you. Fortunately this is rare, but has happened a couple of times, in particular when the editor was more junior than some of the authors.

 

Inviting referees

Inviting referees: If you choose to send the paper out to review, you then invite 2-3 referees. We have templates for the invitation letter, and assistants to help you keep track of unresponsive reviewers. If you only need the referee to look at specific aspects, mention it in the invitation. For example: “how does this result fit with your previous work on X?”, “could you check the proofs of theorems 2 and 3?”, “result 3 seems a bit strange, could you check the code?”

Authors’ list of suggested referees. Editors should use their judgement on a case-by-case basis. These lists can be quite useful, and if the editor believes that some of the referees suggested by the authors could give a good, unbiased review, do invite them. As a rule of thumb, try to also include one referee who was not suggested by the authors.

Authors’ list of referees to avoid. By default respect the request. If the editor cannot find reliable referees outside the blacklist, or has reason to believe that all competent referees have been included on the blacklist, then they may, at their discretion, invite one of those referees.  If a paper is rejected as a result, and the authors appeal, then any bias of the referees should be investigated by coordinating editors.  As a policy we do not ask authors why they chose to blacklist a referee, as this may be personal, confidential information.

Conflicts of interests. Editors and referees should declare whether there exists a potential conflict of interest regarding a particular submission, and, if appropriate, exclude themselves from handling that submission. Reasons for conflict of interests include: close collaboration with the author(s), personal relations with the authors, concurrent competitive research, same institution, and financial co-dependence. As a guideline, editors should not have joint papers with the submitting authors in the previous four years, and referees should not have joint papers with the submitting authors in the previous two years, if possible.  Like most editorial guidelines here, this is just a rule of thumb, and we expect editors to use their judgement on a case-by-case basis, and to consult with each other and admins when in doubt.  Often a referee will say something like “I’d be happy to review the paper, but I’m not sure if X constitutes a conflict of interest.” Editors can ask follow-up questions and make their own call. You can judge whether you trust the referee to be unbiased in circumstances X, and if you end up accepting them, you can weight their report according to this information.

Number of reports: Ideally we’d like to have 2 reports per paper, though this is not always possible, in particular for long technical papers. Often we have to do with one report, but given that you already read the paper, this is acceptable.

Unresponsive referees: The editorial assistants deal with unresponsive referees (protocol below) and will notify you if you need to invite new referees.

 

Second stage of review: making a decision after referee reports

Weigh reports. One of the questions asked in the report form is “to what extent did you check the technical correctness of the paper?” If all the reports received recommend acceptance and at the same time have not checked the proofs, this this a problem. As an editor, you are then encouraged to write back to the referees with something along the lines of  “All referees are very positive about this paper, but none seems to have checked the correctness of the results. Would you be able to go through the proofs?” On the other hand, if the reason why the referees have not gone through the proofs in detail is because they are unreadable, it is more than fair to ask the authors to write a clearer version of the proofs for the next revision. As a rule of thumb, papers published in Quantum should be pedagogically written, and technical details should have been checked by referees.

Open reviews and publicly available information. Editors are allowed and encouraged to include all publicly available information on submitted works into their decision making process, so long as they can reasonably judge and do take into account the quality and bias of this information. This includes but is not limited to conference talks and seminars, blog posts, online and offline discussions, publicly posted open reviews (solicited and unsolicited), and information in the literature.

Make a decision: Once the reports are in, you should read them and make an editorial decision. This can again be a rejection, an acceptance, or a “revise and resubmit”. At this stage it’s usually the latter: most rejections were already filtered out in the first phase, and referees often have comments to be implemented before the final acceptance. You are once again welcome to consult with other editors, or ask informal clarifications from both referees and authors before sending the decision out to the authors. For example, you can write to Referee 1, “Referee 2 mentioned that the proof of X is very similar to Y, and that result W has the problem Z, would you agree?”. In your decision letter, you should specify which referee comments are the most pressing.  You should also make it very clear whether the paper is likely to get accepted or not (we have templates for the two options). New editors: consult with 1-2 other editors (including a coordinator) before sending out this decision for your first 3-4 papers.

 

Revised version and final decision

Revised version: When the authors submit a revised version, it will be automatically assigned to you, the previous editor. You can decide whether to send it back to referees, or to read through the changes yourself and decide if they are good enough for acceptance. This will depend on the nature of changes, and availability of the referees (we do ask them if they’d be willing to review the revised version, and you can judge how long this takes them). You can then make the final decision. In some cases there will be need for another round of revision, but this is relatively rare. Once a paper is accepted, you’re done, and we take care of the publication part.

Response letters. By default, if the authors upload further files such as a response to the first round of reviews, these are not visible to referees. It is the editor’s task to read the files and decide if they are suitable for sharing with reviewers (e.g. there’s no confidential information intended only for the editor). In most cases you will want to share the letter with referees: do so by changing the file permissions, as shown above.

Must referees fill out the whole report form again? Yes and no. This is annoying, but at the moment Scholastica does not have a feature for an updated referee report form for the second round of revision, nor to make the answers voluntary. At the moment, our solution is to tell referees that they can simply fill in most spaces with “see above”, ” – “, etc. Alternatively, the referees may send a free-form review, and then it’s up to the editor to fit it into the form, as above. These instructions are already written on the template for the invitation letter to review the revised manuscript.

Only minor issues in the revised version: If the formal decision is “acceptance” you won’t see the paper again, as the next steps for the authors are to upload the final version to the arXiv and to notify the journal. This means that if there are only very minor changes left to do, and you trust the authors to implement them, you can accept the paper, and specify those suggestions in the decision letter. If the changes are not so minor and you still want to see the paper before you give the final ok, then use the template “revise and resubmit (almost certain after changes)”.

 

 

Instructions for editorial assistants

Editorial assistants are in charge of troubleshooting all kinds of matters. You are the tissue that keeps this journal together, thank you!

Golden rule: If you run into a new procedural  issue, contact the executive board, and if you run into a science question, contact a coordinating editor.

 

Routine communication

Assigning papers to editors: See workflow above.

Communicating with authors: Notify the authors of the status of their manuscript every two months after the submission. There is a template for this. In particular, let them know who the assigned editor is, and when we expect the reviews to be in. CC the editor in charge.

Communicating with referees: Once a decision is made on a paper (rejections, ‘revise and resubmit’ or acceptance), print the decision and attach it to a thank you message for the referees who submitted reports. There is a template for this. When v2 of a paper is submitted, share the original decision again with referees, as depicted below.

Unresponsive editors and referees

Routine checks: Assistants are expected to go through the list of manuscripts a couple of times per week and troubleshoot when there is a roadblock like those described below.

Unresponsive editors: If a paper has been with an editor for two weeks and nothing has happened (no discussion, no invited referees), immediately reassign the paper to a coordinating editor (for example, the coordinator of the week). Start an editorial discussion on the paper with the coordinating editors and the unresponsive editor, saying “Dear [coordinating editor], I am reassigning this paper to you as [editor] has been unresponsive and nothing has happened within the first two weeks. Please find another editor to handle this paper.” Mark the editor as ‘currently unavailable’ on the spreadsheet.

Unresponsive referees. Automatic reminders are sent out to referees in the following basis:

In addition, editors can send personalised reminders any time via ‘referee discussions’ through Scholastica, to check in with the referees.

In our experience, if a referee has been unresponsive for a month, odds are they won’t finish the report, so we recommend editorial assistants to:

  1. Ask the referee if they think it’s feasible to finish it in that time line, if they need an extension, or if we’re better off inviting another referee, and
  2. If there is no response within a few days, assign a “to do: invite new referees” to the editor, and decline the invitation on behalf of the referee.

If a paper has been out for review for months and it has been particularly difficult to find referees to review it, then start a discussion with the editor and the coordinators letting them know and asking them to make a decision.

 

Bypassing Scholastica’s shortcomings

Free-form reports. Not all referees will fill out the report form. Some may send an email with a free-form report as text or pdf. In these cases, assistants can submit the report on their behalf (under the tab ‘Reviewers’). In these cases:

  1. Leave all star ratings as neutral.
  2. In the first text box that’s seen by the authors, write “[Admin note: This referee submitted a free-form report, posted below. The star ratings are arbitrary.]”
  3. If the report is a txt or doc, post it whole in the first box, if it’s a pdf add it as an attachment at the end.
  4. Fill in the remaining boxes with “[see above]”.

This should be primarily the job of the admin staff, as to not overburden editors. However, editors can also do it if for whatever reason they wish to.

 

Including original decision in resubmitted versions. We want the original decision and reports to be easily accessible to the reviewers. For this:

  1. Go to v1 of the manuscript >> Read decision >> Print decision.  Save as pdf.
  2. Go to v2 of the manuscript >> Add another file >> Add the pdf of step 1.
  3. Top right of the file list: blue button “Edit file permissions” >> Make the decision file available to reviewers.

 

The decision pdf includes the initial referee reports  (except for confidential comments for the editor), so it should be all that you need. This pdf will also be visible to new referees that you invite to review v2.

Warning: please make sure that you print and share the decision, and not the original reviews directly, as they contain confidential information (like the reviewers’ names and comments to the editor).

 

Appeals

Appeals were taking a large portion of our coordinators’ time, and were generally unsuccessful. As such, we have now severely limited the scope of appeals, and they can only be based on genuine misunderstandings.

Appeals are submitted by authors via the Quantum website’s appeal form (not through Scholastica). The appeal is received by the admins as an email.  The protocol for processing appeals is currently the following. All times are suggestions rather than strict deadlines, and are counting from the receipt of the appeal.

By t=2 days: Appeal is received by the admins. Admins upload appeal to the manuscript file on Scholastica and start a discussion with the original editor and all coordinating editors to inform them. The Admins address this discussion at the coordinating editor who originally assigned the manuscript to the editor who made the rejection and make clear that it is this coordinating editor’s duty to supervise the appeal (in case the manuscript was handled and rejected by the coordinating editor who first received it, the Admins pick another coordinating editor as the one supervising the appeal). Admins should also upload the appeal message as a file on the manuscript’s page on Scholastica, with the permissions such that it’s visible to authors but not to reviewers.

By t=1 week: The coordinating editor who is assigned to supervise the appeal and the editor who made the decision to reject, discuss with other editors who work in the topic of the paper (or close enough). If no action has been taken by the coordinating editor supervising the appeal, the Admins get in touch with them.

By t=3 weeks: Coordinating editor supervising the appeal writes to the authors to update them on the process. Relevant information to include could be:
a) whether the editor has sent the appeal back to the original referees (or plans to),
b) whether a new referee will be or has been asked to weigh in,
c) how many editors are involved in the discussion,
d) if there are any specific questions that the authors could help with,
e) additional reasons for the original rejection decision (which may be found in internal discussions but were not communicated to the authors)
f) whether the appeal is likely to succeed (if it can be communicated at this point),
g) when the authors may expect new updates (this may depend e.g. on referee deadlines).

The goal of this update is to be as transparent as possible while still protecting the privacy of referees and editors involved. Our editors are doing a great job discussing decisions behind the scenes, and it is important that this is communicated appropriately to the authors, as to not give the impression that the editorial decisions are arbitrary.