APS News

<em>PRL</em> Reaffirms Stringent Selection Criteria

The editors of Physics Review Letters announced in an editorial in their July 1st issue that the journal will apply more scrutiny to submitted manuscripts, and be more selective in those that it publishes. The announcement said that PRL was not adopting any new guidelines for papers per se, but would be applying previously established policies more stringently.

This update will likely mean a decrease in the number of published papers in PRL and a short term drop in the acceptance rate for papers. The editors hope that over the long run, submitters themselves will be more self-selective about which papers have a broad enough appeal for publication in PRL.  

“It is not fundamentally different from past practice, but the emphasis on PRL’s criteria, and what those criteria mean, has increased,” said Reinhardt B. Schuhmann, one of PRL’s editors, “A Letter still must be valid, important, and of broad interest, but we hope to encourage the physics community to think in more detail about the attributes that make a manuscript important, or of broad interest.”

This reaffirmation was prompted by some concern over the future growth of PRL. The competing journal Nature recently began printing the offshoot publications Nature Physics and Nature Nanotechnology which could start siphoning away some manuscripts from PRL. In addition, the growing number of papers published annually in PRL has prompted criticism from some subscribers who have found the large volume of papers difficult to sort though. The editors hope that by reaffirming PRL’s core principles to publish the most important physics papers of broad interest the journal’s vitality will be refeshed.  

“I would characterize the PRL publishing policy as aiming to publish the most important and interesting results in all (or almost all) fields of physics,” said Jack Sandweiss, another of PRL’s editors and chairman of the PRL Editorial Board. “This has been our policy since PRL’s inception but unavoidably as physics has developed and the journal has grown, we find that we need to be more rigorous in the application of these standards.”

According to the published editorial, referees will be required to report compelling reasons why a paper recommended for PRL is appropriate for the publication and wouldn’t be better suited for one of the more specialized Physical Review journals. In addition it asks researchers to carefully consider their findings and submit only papers that “substantially advance a particular field, open a significant new area of research, or solve a critical outstanding problem.”

An additional aim of this reaffirmation of standards is to speed the publication of accepted Letters and the transfer of other papers to a more appropriate, specialized journal. The criteria were officially adopted as of July 1st, but editors expect that it will take some time for all referees and authors to fully adjust.

Since its inception in 1958, Physical Review Letters has continually sought to bring the most important and groundbreaking physics research to its subscribers.

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Editor: Alan Chodos