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I have submitted a journal paper in a reputed journal. It says on their website that the normal response time is 12 weeks. I have seen in other websites that the response time from this particular journal is around 72 days. It is been 14 weeks almost and I haven't received a decision yet. Does it mean that the paper is bad in terms of content (I believe not!)?

Or, does this mean that the reviewers find it hard to go through everything? Or, there is no relation at all.

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From more than a decade of editorial experience: There is no correlation. You just have to be patient, but while you are patient, there is nothing you can infer from the amount of time it takes for the paper to go through the process.

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In general I will agree with the other answers that there is little correlation between paper quality and review time, once you have made it past editorial rejection. At that point, the dominant factor in time is the arbitrariness of peer reviewer responsiveness and editorial distraction, since reviewing papers is a lower-priority task for most active researchers.

In my experience as an editor, however, there is one class of manuscript that does tend to take unusually long to get responses on: not-very-good presentations of potentially interesting work.

If the work was presented well, it would be easy to provide a review based on quality. If the presentation very bad, then it would be easy to reject on the basis of presentation. In between, however, is an uncanny valley filled with work that is slow and painful to review.

Unless you are getting complaints about confusing presentation from your reviewers, however, you shouldn't guess that your work is in the uncanny valley. Instead, you should assume that you're just experiencing the arbitrariness of reviewing time.

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Let me suggest that if there is a relationship then it is both weak and somewhat chaotic with many outliers. Especially bad papers may be easy to weed out. Especially good (essential) papers may be very hard to verify. It took a long time for Einstein's special relativity paper of 1905 to be accepted generally.

One reason why it probably means little in a specific case is the wide variability of the time available for reviewers. They have their own work and it has a higher priority than the reviews they've agreed to do. They might also want to seek some advice from colleagues on a good paper and kick ideas around for a bit. Some math papers are hard if the proofs are intricate. Only especially trivial results are likely to get a quick analysis (and likely rejection).

There are lots of reasons for delay, even including inefficient process at the journal itself. It is most likely to mean nothing essential about the quality of the paper.

A two week "delay" beyond "typical" is but an instant of time.

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    Of course, keep in mind that Einstein's paper wasn't subjected to the indignity of peer review! Jul 12, 2022 at 22:12
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I had a previous experience with a very delayed response time from a reputable journal. I submitted my manuscript for review and received feedback nine months later! This was significantly longer than the reported average response time for the journal, although I heard from a colleague that they experienced a similar delay at this journal. My paper was accepted with minor revisions, and moved forward to publication quickly. I was told that the delay was related to difficulties finding reviewers who could complete the review within the required timeframe, an issue which is apparently becoming more common. In any case, I would not worry that the response time is a reflection on the quality of your work!

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