Fast-Track acceptance criteria and policies

Acceptance criteria

Author team

  1. The review author team must include methodologists and content experts in the field of the review topic (for example health professionals or informed consumers). At least one member of the team, either the lead or contact author, should be an experienced Cochrane author. Authorship should be based on substantial contributions, as described in the criteria of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The Fast-Track Service complies with Cochrane’s authorship and contributorship policy.

Protocols

  1. In order to ensure that reviews that are processed through the Fast-Track Service meet Cochrane’s high quality standards, the protocol for the review must be submitted for consideration, alongside the review.
  2. The protocol must either be a published Cochrane protocol or the authors must provide evidence that the protocol was finalised prior to the review being started. This may be pre-registration on PROSPERO, or the protocol may have been published in a journal or on an institutional website. Protocols published outside of the Cochrane Library must be referenced clearly in the Abstract, Methods and Results sections.
  3. The protocol must clearly describe:
    • The review objectives (see MECIR standards PR5-PR8; C1-4)
    • The eligibility criteria for study types, study reports, participants and interventions and a clear justification for these criteria (see MECIR C5-C13; PR9-PR12)
    • The outcomes that will be considered, including the outcome measures and time points of interest (MECIR PR13-PR16)
    • The search methods used, including all sources that will be searched and any restrictions to be placed on the search (e.g. time period or publication format) (MECIR C19; PR17-21)
    • The methods that will be used for data collection and analysis, including how risk of bias will be assessed (MECIR PR22–PR40; C20-23). 

Protocols for updates

  1. An update submitted to the Fast-Track Service must have an accompanying up-to-date protocol which was finalised prior to the update being started and complies with the Fast-Track policy on protocols. It is not sufficient that changes from the protocol for previous versions of the review are described in the review itself.
  2. If the update has a Cochrane protocol with out-of-date methodology, it is acceptable that an up-to-date protocol for the update be pre-registered or published elsewhere outside of the Cochrane Library (e.g. PROSPERO) and submitted along with the review. 

Reviews

We aim for a very high threshold at submission. The following are required in order that submitted reviews may enter the editorial process of the Fast-Track Service:

  1. The review must have been identified as high-priority for Cochrane, and the relevant Network and CRG must have agreed to the review being submitted to the Fast-Track.
  2. Submitted reviews must have a protocol that complies with the Fast-Track policy on protocols.
  3. Reviews will only be considered where initial assessment indicates that the review already meets or is approaching the agreed quality standards for publication. Reviews requiring major revisions will not be accepted onto the Fast-Track Service.
  4. Reviews must be compliant with MECIR standards. Reviews with minor issues with reporting compliance may be considered for revision (at the discretion of Cochrane), but reviews that do not comply with conduct standards will be rejected outright. Specifically:
    • 10.1    The PICO question (population(s), intervention(s), comparison(s) and outcomes) and, in particular, the nature and key elements of the interventions must be described such that the review could be replicated or acted on by the reader (MECIR R19-25 and R27-32).
    • 10.2    Searches for studies should be as extensive as possible in order to reduce the risk of publication bias and to identify as much relevant evidence as possible (MECIR C24-C38). Trials registers must have been searched (C27).
    • 10.3    The date of search must be within 12 months of the projected publication date (MECIR R33-38, C24-38).
    • 10.4    The risk of bias must be assessed for each study included in the review using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, by at least two people working independently (MECIR C52-60).
    • 10.5    Data must have been analysed appropriately, accounting for any unit of analysis issues and avoiding other substantial data entry errors (MECIR C61-73).
    • 10.6    Authors must ensure all results are fully reported and include a ‘Summary of findings’ table(s) which complies with MECIR criteria (MECIR R55; R98).
    • 10.7    Authors must ensure all changes to the conduct or methods of the review made since the protocol was developed have been outlined and justified (MECIR R107-108).
    • 10.8    Authors must ensure that the reporting of objectives, important outcomes, results, caveats and conclusions are consistent across all sections of the review (MECIR R87).
    • 10.9    GRADE quality ratings must be reported and used to inform interpretation whenever the findings of the review are described (Abstract, Plain language summary, Results, Discussion and Conclusions) (MECIR C74-75; R99)
  5. Reviews should be written in English and a spell check must be completed prior to submission. Authors are responsible for ensuring a publishable standard of English in their review.
  6. Reviews should be compliant with the Cochrane Style Manual.
  7. Updates of existing Cochrane Reviews may only be submitted to the Fast-Track Service in exceptional circumstances, whereby the update is of high priority for Cochrane and the review meets the criteria for updating according to the Updating Classification System. Submission must follow prior discussion and agreement with the Fast-Track Team. The update must be submitted along with an up-to-date protocol as described in the Fast-Track policy on Protocols for updates.

Peer review policy

  1. All reviews managed through the Fast-Track will be peer reviewed in accordance with the Cochrane peer review policy. This means that we operate a named peer referee policy, require peer referees to complete a conflict of interest statement, and require both content and methodological/statistical peer review.
  2. In addition to compliance with the Cochrane peer review policy, each Fast-Track Review must be:
    • Peer-reviewed by someone with specialist knowledge of the methodology/statistics employed in the review. If a review contains complex interventions or specialist methodology e.g. network meta-analysis etc., the review must be peer refereed by at least one methodologist who is a specialist in this field.
    • reviewed by at least two topic specialists who are external to Cochrane
    • reviewed by at least one consumer referee
  3. Comments must be collated into a single document for the authors to respond to. Comments that contradict MECIR standards or Cochrane policy will either be left for authors’ reference, with an Editor’s note clarifying that the comment need not be addressed, or removed from the document, at the discretion of the Fast-Track Managing Editor.
  4. Updated Cochrane Reviews will be subject to full peer review
  5. Peer referees must be informed that they are participating in the Fast-Track editorial process and given clear expectations of the timeline for the return of comments. Peer referees will be given a maximum of three weeks to provide comments on a review for the Fast-Track Service.

Sign-off policy

  1. At the end of the editorial process, each Fast-Track review must be signed off for publication by the relevant Network Associate or Senior Editor AND the CRG Co-ordinating Editor.
  2. Sign-off editors will be given advance notice of a minimum of seven days to inform them that they will be receiving a review to sign off for publication
  3. The sign-off process must take no longer than 7-10 calendar days.

Rejection from the Fast-Track

  1. Once reviews have been accepted onto the Fast-Track Service, certain circumstances during the course of the editorial process may result in the review being rejected from the Fast-Track and transferred to the relevant CRG.
  2. A review will be rejected from the Fast-Track if:
    • 23.1    Major issues regarding review quality, relating to either topic specialism or methods, are identified during the course of the editorial process
    • 23.2    The author team fail to adequately respond to editorial or peer referee comments
    • 23.3     Authors fail to comply with the agreed Fast-Track editorial timelines
    • 23.4    Authors fail to declare relevant competing interests, or declare competing interests that contravene Cochrane’s conflict of interest policy 
    • 23.5    There is evidence of plagiarism, contravening Cochrane’s plagiarism policy
  3. The CRG may decide that they want to continue working with the author team and publish through the standard editorial process. The CRG may also decide to reject the review in line with Cochrane’s policy on the Rejection of Cochrane Reviews.
  4. Any disagreement with the decision to reject will be considered according to the Cochrane appeals policy and process.