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A paper of mine has been under review for more than a year now. About 6 months ago I heard from the journal that one referee report is in while they are waiting for the 2nd. The editor promised he would get in touch with the Associate Editor to speed up the process.

In any case, nothing has happened until now.

I am thinking of withdrawing the paper citing excessively long review times. Could I ask for the one review that the journal received on my paper?

What is a good way to frame the withdrawal email with the request for the journal office to be kind enough to share at least the single referee's report they received?

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    What field are you working in? The normal length of the refereeing process varies wildly across disciplines. – Dan Petersen Nov 29 '13 at 5:19
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    At any case, I doubt the journal would send you the review. As well, I would as them to make it within a month (or similar reasonable dead-line) or you withdraw the article. That way you can actually gain a lot, because they might make it in one month, which is the shortest you can get in your situtation IMHO. – yo' Nov 29 '13 at 11:17
  • Just as an info how else such a situation could be handled on the side of the journal: I once had a similar situation, which was however handled completely differently by the journal editor. We received an information after some months that they had trouble getting the 2nd review, and were now looking for a 3rd reviewer instead. Some more months later, the editor emailed that he hadn't gotten any other review, but considering the delay would go on with one report only. – cbeleites supports Monica Dec 2 '13 at 18:59
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To answer the question I must acknowledge the comment that times vary between disciplines (and to some extent journals). You should therefore check what applies to the journal where you submitted your manuscript. Based on what you find you can start thinking about withdrawing the paper.

From my perspective what you describe sounds like good grounds for withdrawing and trying a different journal. In my field (Environmental sciences) and in the journal where I am editor-in-chief, the time from submission to acceptance can be anything from a month and a half to slightly less than a year, but then the long times involve revision and a second round of reviews. If what you describe happened in "my" journal i would be very sympathetic to a request to withdraw. One could argue that because you have received a review you should feel obliged to stay because of the work the journal editors have put in, but then one must also consider the work they have not done, which is following up on the lack of response. It would not be too much work to assign a third reviewer when lack of response from the second becomes obvious. So in the end I think the journal seems to suffer from internal problems. A lack of response from a reviewer (which is not uncommon) should not halt the process for a paper. So with the assumption that turnover times in your field are within what I see as normal in mine, I think you have a good case for asking to withdraw your paper.

So, in my view, this is what I would do. I would write a polite letter to the editor explaining that you have decided to withdraw the paper because of the (severe) delays you have experienced. You do not need to point out the obvious short-comings of the journal but explain how the delays affect your personal situation. We all need publications to strengthen funding applications, job applications, promotions, evaluations etc. so significant delays have negative effects. Now it is of course not a responsibility of a journal to help your career but in a case like this, there is little point in blaming a (failed) process within which you have no insight, so focus on the effects it possibly has for you. And keep it brief.

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    Hi Peter. Your answer does not address asking for the one review. I'm curious what policies, if any, journals have about such a request. – Faheem Mitha Nov 30 '13 at 10:09
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    @FaheemMitha Good point. If one withdraws a manuscript, it will be up to the journal if they want to share the review. If one requests the review, it is more or less equivalent to committing to stay with the journal. There are not rules here so the above is more about courtesy than law. The review does not belong to the manuscript author so placing demands will probably not be taken well. I am sure the editor(s) realize their failure so constructive suggestions are the best way forward. – Peter Jansson Nov 30 '13 at 10:54
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I actually had a similar situation some years ago. I don't think my experience is very useful, but I will briefly recap it in any case.

I submitted a paper to a journal in October 2009. In April 2010, after several requests, I was told that one referee had given a report, and the journal was still waiting on the second report. The journal then sent me the report at that time (in April), though I gather that was not standard procedure, and as far as I can see, I did not explicitly ask for it, though I had been repeatedly asking for feedback of any kind. The journal wrote:

In fact, we got a report from the first referee. The referee's opinion is rather negative. As a rule, we do not send a negative report before we get a report from the second referee. Taking into account your will, we send the first referee report to you - please find it below.

SInce we have not yet got the second referee report, there is no editorial decision concerning your paper. We hope to receive the second referee report in April.

I don't know exactly what was meant by "taking into account your will".

The second report never arrived, and I withdrew my paper in September 2010, slightly less than a year after submitting it.

I suggest that you ask your journal for the one report. You might want to wait on withdrawing it till you hear what the report says. You could say that you would like to use the first report to improve the paper while waiting for the second.

If they refuse, I guess you could then say that you are withdrawing the paper, and then ask for the report again. If you are going to withdraw the paper, this marks the end of the process from the journal's point of view, and I don't see why they would refuse feedback that might help you. Of course, they might refuse regardless. I imagine that individual journals would have different policies about such things.

  • The reason why journals refuse you to send the report is that they don't want people to expect to get the report. It's similar to situtation when you make some work for a client, and in the end he refuses to pay and end the contract; you don't gain or lose any money by giving them the result at the moment, but you of course don't do it, because it sense a bad habit. – yo' Dec 1 '13 at 16:49
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    @tohecz: In this case, this is a case where the 'work', i.e. reviewing was not completed, and the 'client' has lost out and wasted some time (a year in this case), so I don't think that is really a good analogy. – Faheem Mitha Dec 1 '13 at 17:52
  • @FaheemMitha Still, from the perspective of the journal, they "didn't do anything wrong" (can you hear the sarcasm?), so it's the client (author) who "is over-acting". – yo' Dec 1 '13 at 18:20
  • @tohecz: Yes, I suppose the journal could well look at the matter differently. – Faheem Mitha Dec 1 '13 at 18:25

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