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I submitted a paper to a journal, and I suspect that it is handled too slowly.

  • How can I decide whether my suspicion is correct? What handling times should I expect?

  • Given some expected handling times, when should I act? How much leeway should I give?

  • How should I act? Whom should I contact and what should I (roughly) write?

Note that I am interested on how I should approach this situation in general, and do not seek specific numbers for my specific situation. I am therefore looking for general answers that are independent of such factors as the field or individual journal (but mention them if they are relevant factors).

This is a canonical question on this topic as per this meta post. Due to its nature, it is rather broad and not exemplary for a regular question on this site. Please feel free to improve this question.

  • I like the idea of canonical question. Is this question exclusively about response time following initial manuscript submission or does it also include revise and resubmits? – Jeromy Anglim Apr 21 '17 at 11:21
  • @JeromyAnglim: I don’t see why resubmissions should be excluded. In my experience, there is little that differs for them (which may be just my field, however), so there is little reason to treat them separately. – Wrzlprmft Apr 21 '17 at 11:25
  • "Factors" probably include the editor being sick (and then unable to assign reviewers), or stepping down (which may mean restarting the entire process)... – Anony-Mousse Apr 22 '17 at 14:13
  • @Anony-Mousse: only if the authors are informed about these events. – Wrzlprmft Apr 22 '17 at 15:00
  • 3
    @MikeyMike: In my experience, the time an individual referee takes to send in a review mostly depends on their priorities and duties rather than on how much time they spend on the paper. (Also see this question.) – Wrzlprmft Apr 23 '17 at 20:38
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+200
  • How can I decide whether my suspicion is correct? What handling times should I expect?

    First note that there is no general answer to this as average reviewing times vary widely between fields and even within a field. Therefore, you need to resort to the following:

    • Read the documentation about approximate times on the journal’s website.

    • Look at some sample articles – at the dates of submission/revision/resubmission/acceptance that are on the articles – this gives you a bit of a guide. It is potentially more useful to to look at these details on an article similar to the one you submitted or are intending to submit.

    • Ask colleagues who are experienced with publishing in that journal or at least your particular subfield.

    • Familiarise yourself with the general workflow of academic journals.

  • Given some expected handling times, when should I act? How much leeway should I give?

    • Check if there have been any holidays etc. since the submission.

    • Send an inquiry about a fortnight to a month after the timeframe determined in the first step. But this time can vary – it is a bit of a judgement call, depending on the timeframe that is stipulated and the amount of time that has passed.

    • Keep in mind that the main reason why peer reviews take so long is not the time required by the review itself but that the referee has to find time amongst their other duties (see also this question). Therefore review durations are subject to high variability.

    • Additionally, before you take any action, be sure to check the status of the submission. There is little point in nagging the editor if the status tells you that some progress was made recently, e.g., the reports have just arrived or a new reviewer was appointed.

  • How should I act? Whom should I contact and what should I (roughly) write?

    Send a polite email to the editor assigned to my manuscript – after the introductory pleasantries, politely get to the point, asking something along the lines of:

    I am inquiring about the status of the manuscript [title], as X months have passed, which is considerably longer than the Y months stated on the journal’s website.

    Then sign off, thanking the editor for their time and the usual closing pleasantries.

  • 4
    My advisor always starts with "Dear Dr. Editor, Thanks you for your service. We appreciate it very much." I think people should understand that being a reviewer or a Editor is kindof pretty thankless sometimes. Editors probably get paid a little bit, reviewers dont get anything, other than the fact that they can claim to be a reviewer of a journal. – alpha_989 Apr 21 '17 at 15:22
  • @alpha_989 Absolutely! It certainly does not hurt to be polite. – user70612 Apr 25 '17 at 0:38
2

It might take a long time to find appropriate reviewers. Therefore, waiting for an answer longer than expected is not very extreme. Quoting this answer,

Depending on the scope of submitted paper, editors sometimes have hard time to find a suitable reviewer. During the process, a considerable amount of time might be needed.

The reviewing process starts when editors send the paper to the first suitable reviewer, and ends when final review is complete. Usually, it is not a single reviewer, but several reviewers.

Unfortunately, some reviewers might reject to review the paper for various reasons

Q: How can I decide whether my suspicion is correct? What handling times should I expect?
A: There is no certain way to decide whether such suspicion is correct or not without contacting the editorial board. Expected times might be stated in the journal's web site, however stated durations might vary.

Q: Given some expected handling times, when should I act? How much leeway should I give?
A: It is natural to act if a considerable amount of time passes after the expected response time (ERT). But please keep in mind that again, this depends on the amount of ERT. For instance, if ERT is 3 months, it is not preferrable to send an email about the status in 100th day. Waiting for about twice the ERT might be a good measure.

Q: How should I act? Whom should I contact and what should I (roughly) write?
A: Only office to contact is editorial board. Writing an email to the editorial board, addressing your issues and asking for the status of your paper would be sufficient. However, if you need an immediate feedback because of various reasons, that should be stated in the mail. As an example:

Dear Dr. [Name Surname], I have submitted the paper entitled [title of the paper] to [journal name] on [date of submission]. As stated in your website, the expected response time is [duration]. Since it is passed [duration] months after the expected response time, I would like to ask the status of my paper, which is currently under review. Please note that I have a time restriction for getting an official review. Therefore, I may suggest experts of the field to help the process, if you are still seeking reviewers. Otherwise, please update the expected response time so that I can plan ahead.

If you have no time restrictions, you may simply write the same mail without mentioning the time restrictions.

2

The answer varies from field to field. As a former journal publisher the timeline for physics journals is:

  • A few days: The journal acknowledges receipt of your paper (not every journal does this).
  • A few days: Editorial “shuffling” where your paper bounces between editorial board members until one of them agrees to handle it. This might take a few days to a week.
  • Reviewer invited: Typically within two weeks.
  • Review complete: This is the largest variance part because some reviewers agree to review but don’t actually submit one, some reviewers decline, some reviewers never respond to the invitation, and so on. My personal guideline was to invite new reviewers if the previous reviewer had gone seven days without answering the invitation. Each time I invite new reviewers, I budget thirty days before I receive a review. It can be faster than this but taking longer is more common. Order of magnitude estimate for the entire stage would be 50–60 days.
  • Decision made: Depends on the editor, but less than a week after the final review is submitted is typical.

This can vary a lot between fields however (math for example takes much longer). There’s also a large variation even within physics, depending on how the journal is set up. Some journals have all submissions directed to the editor-in-chief who then assigns an editorial board member. Other journals might have the journal office decide which board member to handle the paper. Yet others might say, we wait for ten papers, and then send them all to the editor-in-chief in batches.

For physics I suggest contacting the journal asking for a status update if:

  1. If your paper goes more than two weeks with no sign of it getting to the reviewer invited stage. It’s possible the paper got lost in the system, the handling editor needs to be prodded, etc.
  2. If your paper is in the reviewer invited stage for more than six weeks. You might spur the editor to stop waiting and invite more reviewers. At worst you might get a reply such as: “We invited X reviewers but none of them responded.”
  3. If your paper is in the review complete stage for more than two weeks. This could mean the editor is slow at submitting a decision, or it could mean the editor is waiting for more reviewers. You might get an early peek at the likely decision if the editor decides to send you the reviews that have already been received.

For other fields, this will need to be adapted depending on how long it takes to review on average. If unsure about the estimated time, I’d check with my peers.

The person to contact varies depending on the journal. If you’re in direct contact with a member of the editorial board (he or she acknowledged receiving your paper, asked for clarifications, etc), that’s the person to write to. Otherwise, write to the journal office. Most journals will have an email address, and the person answering that email is an employee of the publisher. He or she will know who to pass the query to.

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