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    Average/Expected Peer-Review Timetables

    On average, how long must/should one wait for a decision after submitting an article for peer review? It has now been six months in my case, and while the editor has promised a swift reply multiple times, I am still waiting. Apparently there is one review pending. At what point would it be reasonable to retract the article to submit elsewhere? On the one hand, the journal has invested the editor's organizational efforts and one or more reviewers' time, and I respect and appreciate that. On the other hand, half a year seems an unreasonably long time to wait, given that the decision could still be "no." What are the norms for the major journals?

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    • 5 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Don't get us started--I once waited a year and a half before venturing to ask how things were going! Lately I think people are more comfortable withdrawing their submissions and sending them elsewhere after a long wait. I think three months is normal for a couple of respected journals in our area, and only after six would I consider discussing withdrawal with the editor.

    • Good question!

      I can only speak for myself, but as a reviewer, once I get started with a submission, it really only takes a few weeks to read something deeply enough to provide feedback—less time in the summer months. MTO's two-month policy seems reasonable, and IMO, should be what editors strive for.

      However, from my experience as a former co-editor, I will add that finding blind reviewers can take more time than a manuscriupt submittor might think. Editors need time to find and contact potential reviewers, and also time to hear back from them and—hopefully—get an affirmative response. If a potential reviewer declines, an editor must find another potential reviewer, reach out, and wait again. In other words, the time for an author to wait gets extended even more. Editors will often (and understandably) reach out to those who seem to be the most qualified reviewers first. The problem is those are the very same reviewers who are asked most often to review manuscripts that touch upon submissions in that area. Those reviewers are often tempted to weigh in, but may even put off refusing. Even if they do manage to agree, they often need cajoling (or reminding) to follow through and produce a review. As an editor, I hated keeping submitters in the lurch, but often had to do so. In matters that require one to answer for processes that are beyond one's control, I've learned that the best approach is just to be as transparent as possible. 

      As for your final question, the norms for the major journals are typically indicated in the authors' guidelines. posted at journals' websites. It might be interesting to see how accurate those indications ultimately are.

    • Derek, this is a good question, especially because it is hard to know what is normal before you've had experience with this, and what should happen, what an editor will tell you will happen, and what normally does happen. Keith already gave you an excellent answer on this: while reviewing doesn't in principle take that long, editors are often faced with reviewers that are unresponsive, who maybe agree to a review but then sit on it, and the process is not just that of the reviewers, but also the editor identifying potential reviewers, contacting them, maybe going through a number of rejections or non-responses before finding someone, and then, after getting reviews, reading them and making a recommendation. So I would say, in our field, six months is longer that it should take, but is actually pretty normal. You would not be outside of the bounds of reason to pull your article, but keep in mind that you would be wasting all the effort that the editor and reviewers have already put into it, and the editor will probably be understandably irritated about this. Besides, you are not exactly doing yourself a favor: you could be getting a response from this first journal by the end of the month. If you withdraw and resubmit elsewhere, you might be waiting yet another six months. 

      The most important thing, though, is that if you do choose to send your article elsewhere make it very clear that you are withdrawing your article from the first place you sent it before you submit it to another journal. It is a serious breach of faith to have the same article submitted to two places at the same time. I'm sure you would not do that, but I feel it is worth reminding, for anyone reading this thread, that this is taken seriously by editors and is not okay. 

      --Jason Yust


    • Good question!

      Having been a submitter and an editor, I understand both sides.  My bottom line: it’s the editor’s responsibility to deal with a tardy reader.  If a reader doesn’t respond to editorial prodding, the editor should find another reader with a record of swift reviews.  It’s an honor (surely cited on the reader’s cv!) to review journal submissions.  With honor comes responsibility.

      The submitter should also consider time-sensitive issues.  For instance, junior scholars facing reappointment, promotion, tenure decisions need to demonstrate a continuous record of publications.  In such cases, it is fully acceptable to pester the editor. 

      A different sort of time-sensitive issue concerns the subject-matter.  For instance, if the article announces a significant discovery in an archive, timely acceptance is crucial (lest another scholar announces the same discovery). 

      An anecdote:  Before e-mail existed, I discovered something of historical importance in an archive.  I submitted my article via snail-mail.  When several months had passed without receiving any response from the editor, I requested that the editor at least acknowledge receipt of my submission.  After another month with no response, I sent the article to a different journal, where it was accepted swiftly and scheduled for publication.  I wrote yet again to inform the first-journal’s editor that the paper had been accepted elsewhere.  Yet again, I received no reply.  That was the journal’s problem, not mine.