I have a manuscript that has been in review for 60 days. The journal asks for reviews within four weeks. At what point is it acceptable (and not detrimental) to contact the editor for an update? How should I phrase the request?
I don’t know your field, but in mine (theoretical computer science), you have to get used to long review processes. My personal rule is to contact the journal six months after submission. Given recent events, my new, additional rule is to also state upon submission that I can suggest referees if need be.
As EpiGrad commented, the four weeks time certainly refers to the time allowed to the referee. But additional stages take longer: a first quick scan of your paper to decide whether it’s worth troubling an editor with it; then the editor has to find referees; and, assuming they all complete their reviews in time, the editor also needs a little bit of time to reach a decision based on the reviews. Moreover, your paper might not be their top priority.
As for the “how”, something like this would do:
I understand that you must be extremely busy, but I was wondering about the status of my manuscript [title, reference number] that I submitted on [date]. Have you heard back from the referees yet?
Thanks a lot for your time.
Best regards, [name]
I think an answer to this really depends on a lot of things: at least on the journal and the field you are in.
I am from mathematics and there I usually ask after 6 month. Only for journals which are known for long refereeing times I sometimes wait for 9 month.
By the way: The American Mathematical Society publishes a list of expected waiting times and backlogs for some mathematical journals (see e.g. here or google "AMS journal backlog").
I would say after six months is reasonable to ask for a status check. I am from engineering and I often politely ask after six months. If I don't hear from them with a final decision within the next two months I decide to withdraw the paper as it seems that the whole process will take too long and either the journal or the reviewer(s) is not very professional. Eight to nine months is very long response time for a first inquiry. Sometimes you just cant wait that long, you need to know whether is rejected or not because you need to present something on your PhD career, change a job, or as part of a funded project.
I believe that accepted answer is too informal for some people. I prepared following template for myself. Using following link and Coursera professional email course. I waited 4 months before sending this email.
Subject: Inquiry about my submitted article (#XXXX) to Journal - JOURNALNAME Dear Dr. EDITORNAMESURNAME My name is NAME SURNAME, and I am first author of article #XXXX (TITLE). We submitted our article to journal JOURNALNAME on SUBMISSIONDATE. We have not received an update regarding the status of our manuscript. Could you let us know when we can expect notice regarding the decision of the editorial board? Thank you for your time and effort. Best Regards, NAME SURNAME
As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
In my experience, it is reasonable to politely request an update after ~2 months of review. With most manuscript trackers, it is possible to see where the manuscript is in the pipeline and send a gentle reminder if the manuscript is stuck in one stage for too long (e.g. reviewer section, review, editorial evaluation, etc). Keep in mind that most editors are volunteers and they may forget to follow up with reviewers in a timely manner due to their busy schedule. I find it hard to believe that a polite email would antagonize the editor since journals want to publish high quality papers in a timely manner.