I recently attended an editiorial panel at a conference where editors of several journals in my field advertised their journals and to this purpose listed, amongst others, the time difference between editorial acceptance and online publication.

While the averages they gave were about one month, I cannot recall any paper of mine or my colleagues in this field for which this took longer than two weeks. We get the proofs within a week, send our corrections within one or two days and the paper is published a few days later. Add two days for the rare case that another round of proofs is required.

I can guess several reasons for this discrepancy myself such as:

  • authors not returning the proofs in time
  • bad figures that require reworking
  • bad English that requires a lot of copy editing
  • a strongly skewed distribution of acceptance-to-publication times (but then journals would probably use the median and not the average for this statistics)

However, I am interested in something more substantiated than a guess and thus in any statistics or hands-on experiences from a copy editor or similar as to what usually makes up for the time between acceptance and online publication, which in turn could explain these discrepancies.

  • 2
    Did you ask the editors at the panel? May 28, 2015 at 20:02
  • @StephanKolassa: Unfortunately not. But I probably will on the next occasion.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 28, 2015 at 20:09
  • 1
    You get the proofs in a week?! I've had gaps of months before proofs arrive (and no, nothing is wrong with the latex I send - the proofs often contain significantly more errors).
    – Jessica B
    May 30, 2018 at 19:21

3 Answers 3


From personal experience, I can say that while the usual time from acceptance to online publication may be quite short (for a good journal), there are occasionally situations where the process takes a lot longer. This probably pushes the mean time interval up quite a bit.

Over the last five years, I have published a couple dozen papers, and for most of them, the time lag between their acceptance and their appearance online was just two or three weeks. However, for three of those papers, the time was quite a bit longer--a matter of months instead.

The reasons for this varied. In one case, the copy editor raised some questions about my wording, and the paper passed back and forth between me and the journal several times before both sides were satisfied with the way the terminology was used. For the second paper, the proof contained a serious error in one of the equations, which took three more rounds of proofing to get corrected. (Every time I explained what needed to be changed, they messed up something else; it was frustrating.) In each of these cases, it would take a couple weeks for the editorial staff to make the changes, generate a new proof, and send it to me. When you need to go through four proofs, that can stretch the process to two months.

I don't know why the third paper took three or four times as long as usual; it just did. Presumably there was some difficulty at the editorial office, but I never pressed them to find out what it was.

I try very hard to submit very carefully composed and edited manuscripts, and I encountered a few slow-moving manuscripts. I know there are a fair number of people whose manuscripts routinely need quite a bit more editing work than mine. Mostly, I think this is because the authors are not native English speakers. However, whatever the reason, there are going to be a nontrivial number of papers that need to be sent back and forth between the authors and the editorial office multiple times. These give the distribution of time delays a long tail and probably stretch the mean waiting time out significantly.

  • I had a similar experience when submitting manuscripts that contained several equations to journals that do not normally handle many equations. I had to go through several rounds of corrections as they kept messing it up.
    – Bitwise
    May 10, 2017 at 19:00

The most obvious explanation is that if the "one month" estimate reported is a mean rather than a median, it could be heavily influenced by a few large values. In other words, it seems quite reasonable that there would be a skewed distribution of times to publication: most around 2 weeks, a few that because of various problems take 6 months. As a result, you'd see a mean time of around a month even though in your experience the large majority of your observations would be around 2 weeks.

  • I was presenting this as a guess in my question already and am explicitly looking for something beyond guesses. Do you have anything to back this up?
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 28, 2015 at 16:36
  • 3
    @Wrzlprmft What exactly are you looking for? A paper on the distribution of the acceptance times of other papers? xkcd.com/1447
    – Ajedi32
    May 28, 2015 at 20:32
  • Good to hear the average time from acceptance to on-line publication. I didnt know that it is about 1 month. I have now been waiting 2 months since acceptance, and am getting a bit desperate.
    – Anna
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:20

I have been a copy editor for several academic journals at two different publishers. In my experience, things that affect the time from accept to publication include:

  • Editors asking for additional data (e.g., tables, figures) to be supplied at the author proof stage, which then need to be incorporated into the accepted paper.

  • Editors asking for substantive edits and reorganization of a paper post-accept by the copy editor because they don’t want to go through another round of revisions with the author, as it will affect the time from submission to accept (basically, they want to shift blame for the delay from pre- to post-accept).

  • Papers being “batched” for issues by the editorial office, leading to an uneven and unpredictable workflow for the copy editors and typesetters

  • The publication model (e.g., continuous publication, ePub ahead of print, number of issues in a volume).

  • The length and complexity of the paper (e.g., systematic reviews and meta-analyses, in my experience, can take a couple of days to copy-edit, particularly if one is also responsible for editing/formatting the tables and forest plots, whereas a narrative review or technical note may take an afternoon).

  • Thank you for your answer. Your points only seem to explain why the publication process may take long and vary, but not why I and my colleagues experience publication times that are systematically lower than the published averages. Can you edit it to elaborate? Anyway: Welcome to Academia SE.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 21, 2017 at 14:04

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