I recently submitted to PLOS One. The manuscript was returned before sending to review, with a general comment

Please ensure that your search strategy is adequately described such that another researcher could reproduce your experiments. Please include sufficient detail to this end. Eg, search strategy/protocol, search filters used, the dates of search, inclusion/exclusion criteria, reasons for inclusion/exclusion

The paper uses Web of Science. The search terms and methods are simple and detailed in full. I am confused if there was something specific they are wondering about, or more important, if they assume there was some additional criteria or method used. For example, downloading all data with search term "Graphene" using the Topic search box. I am not sure what else they would think is being done.

PLOS being particularly open access, I understand the extra focus on the methods, but is this a common response? Is it usual they did not read the manuscript and just skimmed it, and I should reply with line numbers of where it exists?

I don't believe it is really an issue of the manuscript not stating it clearly, as it is its own subsection in methods detailed in each step.

  • From the list provided, the date of search seems like the most likely to be forgotten. To reproduce your dataset, people need to know which dates the search results should stop at. Did you include that? – ping Nov 23 '15 at 23:47
  • @ping I included the dates of the data used for search, am I supposed to include the date that I performed the search as well? – user-2147482637 Nov 23 '15 at 23:49
  • It looks like they ask for that, although it's probably slightly less important if you were already limiting the dates to the past. Changes could still occur if the list of journals they index changes, and I'm not sure how web of science handles things like retractions. All of these things are difficult to deal with even knowing the search date though! Also, if your dates of interest were close to your date of search, some recently published work might not yet have been indexed? – ping Nov 24 '15 at 0:01
  • @ping That is all true, but has less than 1% effect on the data. Anyway, it seems that is a bit weak to desk reject something. – user-2147482637 Nov 24 '15 at 2:35
  • @user1938107 Dates of search are absolutely critical, and must be included. What if you were performing your analysis using an old data set that had been gathered in 2003? I'll bet the results for "graphene" would look really different! – jakebeal Nov 27 '15 at 13:20

Check if you have covered all the details that the editor has mentioned. If you are very sure that there is no scope for adding any other detail, you can write to the editor, providing a point by point explanation of what you have done, with page numbers and line numbers as evidence. Since the manuscript has anyways been rejected, you do not stand to lose anything by doing this. However, ensure that you maintain a polite and courteous tone throughout your email. Your email should not give the impression that you are refuting the editor's decision; rather, it should seem like you are seeking more clarity on the weaknesses of your paper, so that you can work towards improving it.

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