For Reviewers

Aims and scope

The British Journal of Pharmacology is a broad-based journal giving leading international coverage of all aspects of experimental pharmacology. Its scope includes:

  • Anti-infective drugs
  • Biopharmaceuticals
  • Cancer pharmacology
  • Cardiovascular pharmacology
  • Drug discovery
  • Drug safety & toxicology
  • Endocrine & metabolic pharmacology
  • Gastrointestinal pharmacology
  • Genitourinary & renal pharmacology
  • Immunopharmacology & Inflammation
  • Molecular & cellular mechanisms
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Pharmacokinetics & drug metabolism
  • Respiratory system pharmacology
  • Methods & techniques.

Criteria for publication

The British Journal of Pharmacology receives many more submissions than it can publish each month. It is therefore important that manuscripts are critically evaluated for compliance with the following criteria:

  • strong evidence for the conclusions that are drawn
  • novelty (abstracts and meeting reports are not considered to compromise novelty)
  • broad biological significance
  • importance to the specific field
  • good experimental design and statistical analysis
  • meeting the requirements for reporting experiments involving animals or animal tissue

The review process

All submitted manuscripts are assessed by the Senior Editor(s) for suitability for the review process, and the views of an Editorial Board member may also be sought. To save authors and referees time, only those manuscripts judged most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent out for formal review.

Reviewers might find it helpful to read the author guidelines so that they know the content and format that the journal expects.

Manuscripts that are sent for formal review go to at least 3 referees. Based on their advice, the editor decides to:

  • accept the manuscript
  • invite the authors to revise the manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached, or
  • reject the manuscript, typically on grounds of specialist interest, lack of novelty, insufficient conceptual advance or major technical and/or interpretational problems; or straightforward priority, since the journal publishes a finite number of papers.

Referees may recommend a particular course of action in their confidential comments to the editor, but should bear in mind that the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. Furthermore, editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, but rather are based on an evaluation of the strengths of the arguments raised by each referee and by the authors. The most useful referee reports, therefore, are those that set out clear, substantiated arguments and refrain from recommending a course of action in the comments directed to the authors.

Referees may, on occasion, be asked for further advice, particularly in cases where they disagree with one another, or where the authors believe that they have been misunderstood on points of fact. This kind of discussion is sometimes necessary to provide an effective and fair review process. We do understand, however, that referees are reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to come to a fair conclusion. In certain cases, additional referees or members of our Editorial Board may be consulted to resolve disputes, but this is avoided unless there is a specific issue on which further advice is required.

Selecting referees

Referee selection is critical to the review process, and our choice is based on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations, and our previous experience with the referee. We avoid using referees who are chronically slow, sloppy, too harsh or too lenient. We invite referees and only on acceptance of the invitation will a referee have access to the full paper.

Upon receiving a manuscript to referee

To avoid unnecessary delays in processing manuscripts, please do the following immediately upon receipt of a manuscript for review:

  • double-check the deadline to ensure that there have been no misunderstandings regarding timing, and contact the editorial office immediately if you anticipate any difficulties in meeting it

  • read the editor's letter carefully and be sure to note any points specific to the manuscript that the editor may have requested your opinion on

  • skim the manuscript and consider whether there might be a conflict of interest for you (with the authors, their institution, their funding sources) and whether you can judge the article impartially

  • consider whether the topic seems to fit the scope of the journal and is likely to be of sufficient general interest for publication.

Please note that we will contact several potential referees and only those who accept first will go on to review the article.


Referees should treat the review process as being strictly confidential, and should keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • manuscripts refereed for the British Journal of Pharmacology should not be discussed with anyone not directly involved in the review process;

  • if colleagues are consulted, they should be identified to the editors;

  • if experts from outside the referee's own laboratory are consulted, referees should check with the editors beforehand to avoid involving anyone who may have been excluded by the editor;

  • referees should, as a rule, not disclose their identities to the authors or to other colleagues since they may be asked to comment on the criticisms of other referees and may then find it difficult to be objective. Should they feel strongly about making their identities known to the authors, they should do so via the editor. We strongly disapprove of any attempt by authors to determine the identities of referees or to confront them, and encourage referees to neither confirm nor deny any speculation in this regard.

Writing the report

The primary purpose of referee reports is to provide the editors with the information that they need to reach a decision, but they should also instruct the authors on how to strengthen their manuscript if revision is a possibility. Referees are asked to submit both confidential comments to the editor and those that can be directly transmitted to the authors. We recommend the following division of the report:

Comments for transmission to the authors

Referees are asked to maintain a positive and impartial, but critical, attitude in evaluating manuscripts. Criticisms should remain dispassionate; offensive language is not acceptable. As far as possible, a negative report should explain to the authors the weaknesses of their manuscript, so that they can understand the basis for a decision to ask for revision or to reject the manuscript.

The ideal report should include

  • an initial paragraph that summarises the major findings and the referee's overall impressions, as well as highlighting major shortcomings of the manuscript.

  • specific numbered comments, which may be broken down into major and minor criticisms if appropriate (numbering facilitates both the editor's evaluation of the manuscript and the authors' rebuttal to the report).

The report should answer the following questions:

  • what are the major claims and how important are they?
  • are the claims novel and convincing?
  • are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of earlier literature?
  • will the readership of the Journal be interested and why?
  • does the paper stand out in some way from the others in its field?
  • are there other experiments that would strengthen the paper?
  • is the experimental design and statistical analysis robust and appropriate?*
  • is the description of the use of experimental animals robust and appropriate?*

*Papers submitted to BJP should adhere to new requirements for experimental design, statistical analysis and reporting of the use of animals in experiments. These requirements are set out in a series of editorials that reviewers can consult for guidance.

Since the authors must provide information on these requirements in a specific sequence in the Methods section, the reviewers will be able to find and check this information easily in sections of the Methods called

  • Experimental design, data analysis and statistical procedures (all manuscripts)

  • Requirements for reporting experiments involving animals or animal tissues (this section is required only if animals, animal tissue or primary cultures are involved).

Use of Animals: The author guidelines indicate the nature and level of information that BJP expects in manuscripts that describe experiments that involve the use of animals. Good science and good animal welfare standards go hand-in-hand and these requirements will assist in improving dissemination of good practice. The rationale is to encourage full disclosure of relevant information that would allow the study to be independently replicated and to enable editors and reviewers to judge whether the ethical quality of the work adheres to the standards that the journal requires ( McGrath and Lilley, 2015).

Description of Methodology: If the author is using a well-established and previously described methodology, much of the information can be communicated by reference to published work, but it is essential that the necessary detail is present in the work cited, i.e. authors should not cite a paper that in turn cites another and so on; they should cite only the original source. If the methodology, has been modified, this needs to be explained. If a novel methodology has been developed by the author and shown to have the potential to replace animals, to reduce the number of animals required or to reduce the severity of the procedure (refinement), this should also be explained.

Number of Animals: Note that the appropriate number of animals used needs to satisfy experimental design and statistical power requirements (see generic checklist 'Compliance with Experimental Design and Statistical Analysis requirements', discussed in a separate editorial ( Curtis et al., 2015). BJP’s rule is that statistical analysis should be carried out only if n≥5. Data with n<5 can be shown and interpreted with approprtiate caution but statistical analysis should not be carried out.

For manuscripts that may merit further consideration, it is also helpful if referees can provide advice on the following points where appropriate:

  • how the clarity of the writing might be improved (without necessarily going into specific details of spelling and grammar)

  • how the manuscript might be shortened

  • how to do the study justice without overselling the claims

  • how to represent earlier literature more fairly

  • how to improve the presentation of methodological detail so that the experiments can be reproduced

  • the submission of supplementary data on the British Journal of Pharmacology web site to enhance the presentation (depositing, for example, crystallographic information, source code for modelling studies, microarray data, detailed methods, mathematical derivations, long tables and movies).

This reviewer should not include a recommendation regarding publication within the author report. This information is provided to the Editor only.

Confidential evaluation

The manuscript should be rated relative to others in the field, on the form provided, by selecting one of the following evaluations:

  • Very good or top quality work
  • Good work and of interest
  • Needs revision but is interesting enough to merit further consideration
  • Solid work but not that exciting/minimal advance made
  • Poor quality or uninteresting work

Referees will automatically be sent via email a copy of the decision letter.

Additional confidential comments to the editor might include:

  • a clear recommendation regarding publication: accept/request revision/reject

  • an assessment of how much any suggested additional experiments would improve the manuscript, and of how difficult they would be to complete within a reasonable timeframe (3 months)

  • in cases where the manuscript is unacceptable in its present form, an opinion about whether the study is sufficiently promising to encourage resubmission in the future.

Editing referee reports

As a matter of policy, we do not suppress referee reports. Almost always, any comments intended for the authors are transmitted. On rare occasions, however, we may edit a report where the referee has made an obvious factual mistake or includes a recommendation regarding publication, or to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information. We ask referees to avoid saying anything that may cause needless offence, but also expect authors to recognise that criticisms are not necessarily unfair.


The British Journal of Pharmacology is committed to rapid editorial decisions and publication as efficiency in this process is a valuable service both to our authors and the scientific community as a whole. We therefore ask that referees respond promptly or inform us if they anticipate a significant delay, which allows us to keep the authors informed and, where necessary, find alternative referees.

Conflicts of interest

In order to ensure fairness in the referee process, we try to avoid referees who: have recent or ongoing collaborations with the authors, have commented on drafts of the manuscript, are in direct competition, have a history of dispute with the authors, or have a financial interest in the outcome. Because it is not possible for the editors to know of all possible biases, however, we ask referees to draw our attention to anything that might affect their report, including commercial interests, and to decline to referee in cases where they feel unable to be objective. We do not find it necessary to exclude referees who have reviewed a paper for another journal; the fact that two journals have independently identified a particular person as well qualified to referee a paper does not decrease the validity of her/his opinion in our view.

Publication policy and ethical considerations

In spite of our best efforts to identify breaches of publication policy or ethical conduct, such as inadequate standards of research ethics regarding subjects, patients or animals; fabrication of data; plagiarism and redundant publication; or author conflict of interest, the referees, who are more familiar with the field, are more likely to recognise such problems. We ask therefore that our referees always be attentive to these issues and alert the editor to any potential problems in this regard.

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