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Publishing ethics for editors

Understanding responsibilities and handling allegations of misconduct

All Emerald journals have been signed up to COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics. This non-profit organisation provides a forum where journal editors and publishers can discuss publication ethics. It also advises editors on handling cases of research and publication misconduct.  In all instances, we closely follow COPE's principles of publication ethics laid out in its Core Practices documents.

Emerald believes in editorial independence and the freedom of Emerald editors to make editorial decisions drawing on your subject experience, knowledge of your journal, and academic ability. We will never interfere with the editorial decision-making process and defer to you as the subject experts.

There may be times an editorial decision has to be changed due to ethical or legal concerns. If that happens, Emerald and our editorial teams will act with full transparency, objectivity and in accordance with the COPE guidelines.

Authors are responsible for ensuring that their manuscripts are ethically sound and meet the industry-recognised standards. At Emerald, we have created a range of online resources to help researchers and professionals understand where the ethics boundaries lie (and the possible consequences of crossing them).

  • Author publishing ethics guide: This highlights the six criteria all manuscripts must meet and walks authors through the various ethics violations, including:
    • Plagiarism
    • Redundant publication (dual publication)
    • Self-plagiarism (text recycling)
    • Attribution
    • Authorship issues
    • Coercive citation
    • Defamation/libel
    • Fabricated data
    • Research integrity
    • Conflicts of interest

  • Author rights: This section contains information on copyright and responsible sharing.

  • Permissions: The steps authors must follow when reusing third party content.

When an author submits a manuscript to Emerald, they sign a copyright form. This confirms that their submitted work is original and has not been published before. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule (see our preprints and conference papers policies). If either of these apply, the author must flag them to you at the point of submission.

Reviewers are given access to previously unpublished ideas or findings in their field and can influence whether that content is accepted by your journal. With that high level of trust comes responsibilities.

We have developed a set of Reviewer guidelines to help them understand their role in the publishing process. The guidelines emphasise the importance of respecting the confidentiality of any manuscript they review and not using the data or ideas it contains. They also run through some key ethical points to consider, for example:

  • Does the manuscript truly match their area of expertise? Are they the right person to understand and assess the paper?

  • Can they deliver on time? Delaying publication could have an adverse effect on an author with time-sensitive findings to share – and on the reputation of the journal.

  • Are there any conflicts of interest that would prevent them from accepting the review request?

  • Is the report they've provided honest, fair and constructive?

  • If a colleague has contributed to the review, does their name and affiliation appear on the report? It should!

Reviewers aren't responsible for identifying ethics issues in the papers they review. Having said that, their familiarity with the published literature in the field means they are well placed to spot plagiarism, text recycling, or dual publication and they often play a key role in bringing cases to light.

When you joined Emerald, your Publisher explained the responsibilities and duties of a journal editor. We also highlight some of these on The editorial team page. Many have an ethics dimension, for example, timely publication not only boosts your journal's reputation, it's also your duty – the author has entrusted you with their manuscript and a delay could negatively impact on their career.

Other ethics responsibilities include:

  • Viewing each submission objectively and reporting possible conflicts of interest.

  • Only publishing papers that genuinely add value to your discipline.

  • Never encouraging authors to cite papers previously published by you, or your journal.

  • Maintaining the anonymity of double blind peer review. If at any point you think the reviewer has identified the author of a manuscript they are reviewing, you should ask them to step back from the process. The manuscript should then be sent to someone new for review.

  • Fair and transparent investigation of any allegations of misconduct (see 'Handling an allegation of misconduct' below).

To avoid any potential conflicts of interest, it's important to be aware of the following guidelines:

  • No member of the editorial team should ever be involved in editorial decisions on a submission to which they have contributed in some way.

  • If a colleague at an editor's institution is submitting to the journal, the affected editor must declare this as a conflict of interest and remove themselves from the process.

  • If you, or any member of your editorial team, decide to submit to your journal, you must contact the Content Editor first. This allows them to work with you to ensure full anonymity of the process (i.e. maintain confidentiality of the peer review audit trail).

  • Where editors do publish in their own journals, we add a statement to the article explaining how the submission was handled and the peer review managed.

Crossref Similarity Check

Emerald has access to the originality checking service Crossref Similarity Check, which compares submissions against a database of 49 million works from 800 scholarly publishers. If you have concerns about a submission and would like it to be checked for similarities to previously published content, please contact your Content Editor.

COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics)

All Emerald journals are members of COPE. As the journal editor, this provides you with access to:

  • An e-Learning programme designed to help (new) editors understand publication ethics and provide the tools and knowledge you need to address any issues that arise.

  • PDF Flowcharts with advice on handling common ethics problems. These are available in multiple languages and topics covered include:
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Authorship and contributorship
    • Allegations of misconduct
    • Data (including manipulation and fabrication)
    • Ethics issues around peer review
    • Plagiarism

  • Other COPE guidelines (e.g. on retractions).

  • Sample letters. These cover a wide range of publishing ethics topics and can be used as the basis of your own letter to an author when a publishing ethics issue arises. COPE has created templates for the first, second and final letters to authors.

  • Database of all cases. The 500+ cases the COPE Forum has discussed since it was launched in 1997 are available to view in the organisation's searchable database (podcasts of the discussions are included, where available). For more recent cases, you will also be able to view follow-up information and the outcome.

COPE also funds research, organises annual seminars globally and has created an audit tool for members to assess their policies and practices against COPE's principles of publication ethics outlined in the Core Practices.

If an ethics issue arises with work submitted to or published in your journal, what are the steps you should take? As the editor and custodian of that journal, and the subject-matter expert, you will take the lead in any investigation. However, it's important to notify your Publisher as soon as a problem is identified, or an allegation is made. Your Publisher, Content Editor and Emerald's dedicated rights team are there to help you in any way they can.

Allegations against an author

It may be that an author has knowingly submitted a manuscript that breaks the ethics rules, e.g. plagiarises another paper or has already been published elsewhere. Sometimes, however, an author has simply made an honest mistake in their work. An allegation of ethical misconduct can have a severe impact on a researcher's career so it's always important to investigate it fully. There are several steps we recommend you follow:

  • Notify your Publisher.
  • Consult the relevant COPE guidelines and flowcharts.
  • Ensure you give the author the opportunity to respond.
  • Discuss your findings with your Publisher – depending on the severity of the case, you may need to involve the author's institution, employer, or funder.
  • Keep records of all written communication.
  • Maintain confidentiality.
  • Remain neutral – it's important not be influenced by third parties.
  • Act with integrity and if the situation has arisen through a lack of knowledge on the author's part, educate them.
  • Be transparent about your decisions.

Don't forget, your Emerald team is always available to help and support you.

If the situation requires it, you may need to correct the literature. Our Emerald article withdrawal policy and correction notices page runs through the options available to you.

Allegations against a reviewer or editor

There may be occasions when an author, or third party, feels there has been misconduct by the reviewer of the manuscript, or even you or a fellow editor.

If the allegation is about the quality of a review (e.g. it's unhelpful or insulting), this can probably be solved with an apology and the decision not to invite that reviewer again. If it's about reviewer bias, you could consider inviting another reviewer to give a second opinion.

If it's something more serious, or involves you or your editorial team, the next step is to notify so our rights team can look into it further – this gives everyone the security of knowing that the allegation is being reviewed by someone outside the journal team.

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