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Early this year, we submitted a manuscript to a journal and heard the revision suggestions back very quickly from two referees. Both the two referees suggest some revision while remaining generally positive about our idea. Last month, we resubmitted our revised manuscript and the editor sent it to the two original referees.

As suggested in the submission system, one of the referees sent the report back yesterday while the other referee has not yet. Then the editor sent our revised manuscript to a third referee today, which is a bit out of my understanding: I know sometimes the editors may send a revised manuscript to a new referee to hear some new voice about a manuscript. However, in my case, the editor didn't seek a new referee right after they received our revised manuscript, but until they heard back from an original referee about the revised manuscript.

I am trying to decipher the underlying meaning of this action: The editor may hear something terrible from the newly-arrived report yesterday so they wanna make use of another referee to see if the bad words make sense. Or the editor just forgot to send the revised manuscript to a new referee, and they remembered to do so just now.

Could anyone also provide some thoughts about the editor's action here?

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4 Answers 4

18

This happens (not so infrequently) when one of the referees indicates she or he is not available or otherwise unwilling to review the revised version.

As many take vacations at this time of year, it could well be that one referee is on holidays and cannot submit a report within the recommended timelines. Of course there are lots of other reasons: an obvious one these days is that one referee needs to isolate or rest because of some illness.

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There are a million possible reasons one could try to enumerate, but at the end of the day it comes down to this:

There is nothing you can do about it at this stage.

As a consequence, here is my advice:

Move your brain power to other projects and wait till the editor sends your paper back with any feedback. You won't find out the precise reasons for all of the moves behind the screen, and nor is there any use to you if you did know the reasons. So, stop spending time and emotional energy on the issue. The time will come when you will learn, and in the meantime work on something else productive, such as your next manuscript.

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    Indeed. Clarity of process is great, but it was easier to not obsess about it when there was no information available…
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 29 at 3:02
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Here's an example I remember.

  • Journal policy is to get two reviews per paper.
  • During the initial stage of invitations, two reviewers agreed to do it, but only one submitted a review.
  • We decide to send the manuscript for revision anyway, because the alternative is to invite another reviewer from square one, which at least doubles the review time.
  • After the manuscript is revised, we invite a second reviewer.

Your description reminds me of another paper, which went like normal except the reviewer said "I'm an expert on [this part of the manuscript], but not really on [another part of the manuscript]" - although in this case I would imagine it's more likely that the editors will invite a new reviewer prior to revision, and the paper simply takes longer to review.

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The only way to be sure is to ask the editor. There are a ton of possible reasons. The one that comes first to mind is that the referee expressed some doubt both about the paper and about their own ability to review it properly (expertise, time constraints, ...). So, the editor wanted more advice.

But the editor gonna do what the editor gonna do. They want some consensus that the paper meets the journal's standards and they probably don't have it yet.

There are about a million pathways through the review system and since there are some loops in the process it is not easy to answer these questions from afar.

Ask the editor or have patience that something is happening and you haven't been rejected. And asking might not get you an answer also. Be prepared for that. Patience is suggested.

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    One likely scenario is that the referee that hasn't answered has told the editor there will be further delay, so they are bypassing them...
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 28 at 19:58
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    Surely I understand what I am doing now is purely guessing, and I don't think bothering the editor before they prepared a decision for us is a good idea. But thanks for your answer anyway.
    – Dran
    Jul 28 at 20:15
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    @JonCuster This is definitely a very probable case. Thanks a lot for sharing this point!
    – Dran
    Jul 28 at 20:17

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