GRL Editorial Policy

This Eos article is well worth the read. Written by the entire editorial board of Geophysical Research Letters, it clearly and concisely explains the current mandate and policies of that journal. Perhaps like many of you, I have had quite a few rejections from GRL over the years. Sometimes I have pushed back and resubmitted to GRL, and other times I have expanded the study and submitted the manuscript to a different journal. As the article states, GRL serves a particular role in geoscience research, and we should respect that role and honor the service of the editors and reviewers that make GRL a rapid-publication, high-impact publication.


            They touch on many of the topics that I have mentioned in this blog. I’d like to take their Eos article as an opportunity to review some of the key points of AGU publication policy that they address. A big change in policy is that GRL has resumed the use of major revisions. There is always an editorial dilemma between rejection and major revisions, over the levels of rejection, or even why we should reject at all. They nicely explain that major revisions are back, but the turnaround time is fast (30 days). If you are submitting to GRL and demanding rapid publication, then you should be ready to work quickly to make that rapid timeline.

Another topic they mention is that GEMS now allows editors to retain the original submission date on a submission-after-rejection manuscript. If the paper is largely the same, then you can refute the rejection, and if the editor is convinced by your arguments, then they have the option of switching the submission date back to that of the original submission. That is, this essentially treats the “new” submission as a revision resubmission. Note that this normally doesn’t get applied for rejection without review, but rather for decisions based on scientific content and quality. I rarely use this feature, but it is an option for all AGU journal editors within GEMS.

They bring up mobility between journals within GEMS. One of the levels of rejection is “reject and transfer.” AGU has also implemented a very helpful “consultation” feature in GEMS to allow editors from different journals discuss a manuscript before suggesting a transfer. I get a small but steady stream of transferred GRL papers, and we occasionally send papers on to other journals, like Space Weather, Radio Science, and Earth and Space Sciences.

The Eos article has an important section on AGU’s Data Policy. This has been around for several years now and I have written about it several times. Note that they adopt the same position on code, demanding availability of “data from numerical models” rather than the code itself.

The GRL Editors explain their position on the cross check analysis. This is always subjective call of whether to send it back, especially with respect to self plagiarism and overlap in the methodology section. I give some tips for checking for overlap here.

I am glad that they mentioned reviewer recognition in the article. None of the AGU journals would exist without the dedicated reviewing service of the research community. This work greatly helps with the process of ensuring high-quality papers. There are a lot of you involved in reviewing, and I also extend my thanks to you.

Finally, the article wraps up with a note on visibility of papers. Papers are highlighted on the journal websites, as well as via Eos Research Spotlights and Editors’ Vox articles. We’re also trying to increase the number of Commentaries in AGU journals and promote papers via social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

In summary, I really like the article that Noah Diffenbaugh and crew wrote about GRL‘s editorial policies. I am very happy to see editors reaching out to the community to increase communication and transparency so we all know what goes on behind the curtain.


3 thoughts on “GRL Editorial Policy

  1. Dear Mike,
    thanks for pointing out an important feature of the AGU publication policy, the check for plagiarism. However, I feel that your answer is wrong: you urge us to change wordings in description of methodology so that the software does not recognize its similarity to previous texts. However, it is the content, not the words, that should be original in an article. I truly believe the software is there to help the editors to make decisions, rather than us working here to help the editors fool the software! I strongly urge AGU to consider its policy for rejecting papers without inspecting where the repetition comes from. The journals need to decide what they want: complete articles that describe the methods used (even if published elsewhere) or just presentation of the new material leaving the reader to click to read the original works. I just refuse to spend my time thinking of how many ways I can say “we use the OMNI data for solar wind…”!!

    • Hi Tuija,
      I agree that we should be discerning in when to send a paper back for a high cross check score. You are correct to ask editors to never trust the overlap percentages, as that value can be very misleading.
      I always look through the entire paper’s Similarity Report to see where the overlap is located. In general, it is the full paragraphs of overlap (usually several paragraphs) that get returned. Sometimes there appears to be a lot of overlap, but it is all in the affiliations or acknowledgments. Sometimes a lot of overlap is just small phrases sprinkled throughout the page.
      We keep tweaking our policy on when to allow methodology overlap and when to return it for revision before review. In the methodology section, we are far more lenient than in other sections. We are sending papers back less before review and instead, if it is not egregious overlap, asking authors to change a paragraph or two at the time of first revision. Authors are complying and it is working well.
      As far as I am concerned, you can use exactly your quoted words in as many papers as you want; 8 words about OMNI data should not trigger any editor’s “send it back” threshold.

  2. Pingback: Defining Plagiarism | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

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