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On a few occasions, I was asked to review manuscripts (for well-known, mainstream journals) with a 2-3 month deadline.

I found this to be a short period given that the papers published in these journals showed about a one year difference between the dates when the papers were submitted and the dates when the papers were accepted. So I was wondering - why is there this discrepancy?

Do reviewers usually request for an extension of the deadline? Or is it common for reviewers to not take the deadline seriously (i.e. to ignore the deadline and submit the referee report after several months when it is done, and perhaps the editor needs to take the initiative to remind the reviewer to submit the report)?

I assume this one year difference is mainly due to the referee's delay rather than the authors having to make revisions (at least with my own papers, it often took several months before I received any referee reports).

While I have met the deadlines in the past, I wonder if I am perhaps allowing myself to be pushed around a bit in the sense that maybe I shouldn't drop my other work just to finish the review on time. I have reviewed only a few manuscripts so far, so I am new to this. I'm not sure how bad I would come across (relative to the norm, that is) if I don't take the deadlines seriously.

  • 2
    Can you give your field, given that the typical review times and customs vary strongly across fields? – Wrzlprmft May 28 '16 at 8:55
  • @Wrzlprmft Yes, theory (algorithms, combinatorics). – svsring May 28 '16 at 16:53
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    Theory of what? I presume computer science, but I’d rather check. – Wrzlprmft May 28 '16 at 18:34
  • @Wrzlprmft yes, cs. for eg, discrete applied mathematics. – svsring May 29 '16 at 1:39
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As an editor, I can say that it is very common for reviewers to submit reviews late, or to ignore invitations without responding so that it takes a while to give up on them and find suitable alternative reviewers.

This doesn't mean that editors and authors don't notice and grumble about late reviews or notice and appreciate reviewers who submit their reviews on time or early! Please keep submitting your reviews on time if you can and ask for an extension rather than ignoring deadlines if you can't!

In my field, a 2-3 month deadline for reviews is longer than usual (my journal normally asks for a 21-day turn-around, and this seems typical of journals for which I am asked to review). But papers still frequently take a year from submission to publication due to delays in review, revisions, and final publication after acceptance.

However, I would also say that most papers are sent back for revisions if they are not rejected outright, and revisions typically also take months.

  • So when the 2 month deadline approaches, I could inform the editor I need another month? – svsring May 28 '16 at 16:55
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    Don't tell the editor you need another month @svsring, Either provide a deadline that you are able to stick to or decline to review the paper (this works for everything, not just reviewing). Things get delayed forever, which is what you're saying happens, if everyone continually puts them back. – Ben May 28 '16 at 20:19
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To answer the question on why there is a discrepancy between "submission to acceptance" and "time for review":

  • There are several other steps that are short, but add up. These steps may or may not all be present for a specific journal work flow - here are a few: After submission an editor has to be assigned. The editor checks if the paper is appropriate. The editor has to assign a reviewer. The editor has to read and evaluate the reviewer reports. The editor has to form a decision. Some steps may occur multiple times if there are revision round. If any of these steps may take from a few hours to a few days or even a week (think about delays due to different time zones, weekends, holiday, business travel...) you see that it's easy to get a total of more than a month.

  • Often reviewers are invited but decline. It happens frequently that a number of reviewers decline before the editor manages to find enough reviewers willing to do the job. Delays due to declining reviewers can easily be in the range of more than a week. Sometimes I get an invitation to review and the online system indicates that the paper has been submitted several weeks ago.

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