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I'm trying to think of things that can contribute to reducing the review time of a paper, and to get the most relevant reviews.

Are there some best practices with regard to submitting a paper to a journal?

For example: Is it better to wait until after big holidays? How long in advance of an holiday should one submit? Does it help to suggest reviewers to the editor? Are there certain things that should be mentioned in the cover letter?

  • Is it better to wait until after big holidays? This particular consideration might be too variable to worry about. Personally, just BEFORE a big holiday would be almost ideal for me. Then I could work on it during the holiday, when I was not busy with teaching classes, grading student work, meeting with students, and other activities that require more immediate attention than refereeing a paper. – Dave L Renfro Mar 23 '18 at 6:52
  • What field are we talking about? Pure math paper, where I may start to get concerned after 6 months? Or some other field where you start sending emails to the editor if it takes longer than 6 days? – GEdgar Mar 23 '18 at 18:47
  • @GEdgar I have submitted to AIP journals before, and they have a good system for updating you about the review process. Most journals I have submitted to have a 60 day target for the first review. I think this is reasonable. What I want to avoid is to wait 4 months for feedback that has little relevance to the content of the paper. – Arnfinn Mar 24 '18 at 14:43
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In my experience as both and author and an editor, the number one thing to reduce the review time of a paper is picking the right journal:

  • A paper well-aligned for a community is likely to get reviewed more quickly than one that is dubiously aligned.
  • Even amongst good journals, some operate much more quickly than others. For ones that show: "received, revised, accepted" dates in addition to publication, you can check this directly in their archives.

Beyond that, the next big barrier is finding reviewers and getting them to return reviews on time. Recommend a couple of people who would be fast and enthusiastic reviewers --- but also leave off some obvious choices. Editors will take some recommendations (and if they're good folks who return reviews quickly, that helps a lot). They will also typically want the majority of reviewers invited to not be your buddies that you recommended, so only recommend a few and leave off people they are likely to think of on their own.

Finally, papers that are easier and more pleasant to read get faster reviews as well. Pay close attention to the flow of your narrative and the ease of grasping key points from skimming through and looking at the figures. Good reviewers will read the whole thing, of course, but if you make it easy for them to organize their mental framework, it will go much better and faster and you'll be less likely to get misunderstandings.

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I'd like to add one item to jakebeal's answer: Keep the paper concise, including only what really needs to be in there. Concise papers make life much easier for reviewers, handling editors and readers.

By concise, I mean make the paper as short as you can make it, but no shorter. Ask yourself if you really need that extra parametric plot or table.

Push other material to Appendices (often useful in math-heavy theory papers) or Supplementary Material (often useful to describe minutiae of experimental procedures), or even keep it off altogether.

Avoid wordiness; it makes reviewers -and handling editors- weary.

  • I have another additional thought. This OP's English has no problems, clearly. But for many participants at Academia SE, it would be helpful to add: have a native speaker of English who is familiar with your field check your English. That's if it just needs some polishing. For more developmental editing, hire a professional. Struggling to understand nonstandard English can reeeally slow down one's reading. – aparente001 Mar 24 '18 at 4:51

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