Why manuscript reviews take forever

Aug 26 2010 Published by under Rant, [Et Al]

What really happens ...

Before submission (BS)

So you’ve spent the past few years working day and night on your study. You write the manuscript and it’s totally fucking amazing. It will undoubtedly bring you fame and accolades. And set you up for that gazillion dollar grant you’ll be submitting next year that will totally get you tenure one year ahead of schedule.

You choose the journal that will be perfect for your manuscript. OMG, the editor is totally going to die when she reads the abstract.

After submission stuff (ASS)

The editorial staff receive your manuscript but don’t get a chance to look at it for a week or so because of all the other totally fucking amazing manuscripts they’ve received. They finally take a cursory look at it to pick out some key words so that that they can assign it to the appropriate associate editor. These key words usually include: “the”, “significant” and “hypothesis.”

The associate editor receives an email alerting her to the fact that she has a new manuscript to handle. She is usually busy herding cats during her regular day job so it can be anything up to a week before she gets 15 minutes free during her lunchtime to look at the manuscript. A quick glance at the title makes her freak out because she doesn’t understand half of the words.

Eventually, the associate editor sighs deeply, wades through the other 5 manuscripts that are in various stages of review to find the new submission. After downloading and opening the pdf, she eventually locates the list of suggested reviewers only to discover that they are all from the same institution as the manuscript authors. Upon closer inspection, it also appears that they were all coauthors on a paper published the previous year.

After an exhaustive literature search, the associate editor finally locates the names and email addresses of 8 potential reviewers in the hopes of finding 2 that will agree to review the manuscript. She sends invitations to the first 3 people on the list and sits back to see what they will say. After 7 days with no response from anyone, the journal’s submission website automatically uninvites the reviewers and sends emails out to the next 3 people on the list. The following day, one person agrees to review the paper. Six days later, the website automatically invites the last two people on the list. Five and a half days later, one person agrees to perform the review. Note that none of the people who are not reviewing the paper actually bothered to decline the invitation.

The manuscript is finally in review.

Reviews and shit (RASH)

Amidst the chaos of the job for which she actually earns a salary, the associate editor completely forgets about the manuscript until she receives an email saying that one of the reviews is late. The first person that agreed to review the manuscript is now 3 days overdue after initially agreeing to a 14 day turnaround time. With a loud growl, she logs into the submission website and fires off a standard “Get The Fucking Review Done” email to the tardy reviewer.

Five days later, the associate editor receives an email telling her that all the reviews have been submitted for the manuscript. Upon looking at the reviews, she discovers that the first one is full of phrases such as “this is an interesting manuscript” and “the authors are to be congratulated”, but there is no mention about the appropriateness of the experimental design or the importance of the findings, novelty or significance of the paper. In the comments to the editor, the second reviewer has merely written “gooood job” while the section for comments to the authors is empty. One of the reviewers has rated the manuscript in the top 25% of papers in the field while the other has rated it in the bottom 25%. Both have indicated that major revisions are necessary.

The associate editor decides to postpone her decision until the following day because this shit has given her a thundering headache. The next morning, she gets to the office before daybreak, fires up some tunes, logs into the manuscript submission site and recommends that the manuscript be rejected.

Post recommendation action time (PRAT)

Two weeks later, the managing editor clicks the magic ***REJECT*** button and you are notified that your work officially sucks.

Time to find another journal.

26 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Hahahhahahaha!!! This is awesome. I've recently been compulsively checking the status of a manuscript I have in, so thank you for reminding me to chill the fuck out. :)

  • GMP says:

    Awesome post!

  • Vladimir says:

    Applause!!!

  • Dr. Bad Ass says:

    I've been a co-editor of a journal in my field for almost a year now, and your description is SPOT ON! Except that we typically give reviewers 35 days to review. The most frustrating part of this work is the way some reviewers will give a manuscript a rating of "Accept," and then talk in their review about the revisions that are needed. Really?

  • Anonymous says:

    Hilarious!

  • Odyssey says:

    Ahhh yes, the old BS-ASS-RASH-PRAT system. Gotta love it!

  • cortig says:

    I fear it might actually be fairly accurate. It’d be pretty funny if it wasn’t so sad :->
    Great post though, don’t get me wrong. It just feels a little too close to reality…… :^>

    Corentin

  • Odyssey says:

    @cortig:

    Sorry to break it to you, but it is the reality.

  • Nice post ! Never been on the other side but this sounds realistic!

    "You choose the journal that will be perfect for your manuscript. OMG, the editor is totally going to die when she reads the abstract"

    Didn't we ever try once to send our paper to a (too) high IF journal (just in case !!), compared to the perfect fit, because our manuscript is totally fucking amazing ?? :-)

  • Cory says:

    14 day turnaround? If only! More like 8-12 weeks for many journals in my area. For no reason really. A few journals do things quickly (3 weeks) and seem to operate just fine. I think that for the most part, people are either deadline meeters or deadline ignorers regardless of the length given. Might as well make it relatively short.

  • tideliar says:

    Took a year once for us for a Big Journal. From submission to publication it was a fucking year. The paper needed only minor text revisions.

    A
    Fucking
    Year.

    • melodye says:

      I know your pain... had our paper rejected from a Big Journal after nine months, in third round, after one reviewer (out of six) got fussy. It's like, oh great, now time to submit to a not-so Big Journal that will invariably take three months to return reviews on the *first round.*

      (Cue splitting headache...)

    • gbpirate says:

      A year is probably about average for those, in our lab, 2 papers in Big Journals, both 2 year revisions

  • Dr. O says:

    Tooooo funny; still chuckling to myself :)

  • antipodean says:

    Genius

  • scicurious says:

    This actually makes me feel better. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

  • gnuma says:

    My concept of the process has now been disabused. I am a changed woman. Probably not for the better.

  • Dave munger says:

    Haha, funny.

    My best tally of this account is ten weeks. That's quite fast for a psychology journal! What happened during the other 16 weeks?

  • GMP says:

    Open Lab?

  • AB says:

    @All

    I know everyone here thinks that this post is full of bitter truths. You'd be surprised if I told you that this is the most awesome timeline possible. Try mathematics. In our field, SIX months is the BAREST of the BARE minimum timelines for receiving a first report. NINE months is considered average to borderline lucky.

    Feeling better now.

  • antipodean says:

    Tidey. You should write a version where you finally do get accepted after jumping through all of their flaming poo-covered hoops

  • [...] in Training: Why manuscript reviews take forever Professor in Training: The overlooked [...]

  • Caffein says:

    Nice post ! Even though I think you're too optimistic about the process, because you forgot the fucking reviewer who gets jealous because he didn't get your "fucking amazing" results and will answer by things like:

    "The authors mention the gravity law, but are they sure gravity holds in their lab ? The authors should provide proof of that, and also proove that gravitational theory holds for their sample holders as well as the atoms making up their samples. Only then the issue discussed in the paper can be adressed. Also, the authors claim that 1+1=2 without bothering to verify it, this is a sufficient reason for rejecting the paper but since I'm nice and in a good mood today, I'll leave them a chance to derive that formula."

    Fucking reviewers.

  • Iqbal kabir Jahid says:

    OOOhhhhhhhhhhhhh great....................... I am facing this problem several times. Even two reviewers favors me, the editors rejected without any reason.........................HAHAHAAAAA..............that simply ridiculous ...................