How Long Does it Take to Review a Paper?

I recently stumbled on a project from Malte Elson at Ruhr University Bochum and James D. Ivory from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University which attempts to give some clarity to the peer review process for journals. Journal Reviewer attempts to give some insight to the old question of how long does it take to review a paper?

The peer review process used by most academic journals is a method of putting in place a quality control process for papers published. Papers submitted to a journal are usually screened by an editor and/or assistant editor to decide whether it merits being sent out to peer review.

Peer reviewers (ideally experienced academics specialised in your field of research) will read submitted work, pass comment on it and make recommendations to the editor as to whether the paper is publishable. Issues of academic quality, methodological rigour, contribution to the field and the technical level of the writing will all be considered, as will whether the paper fits into the journal’s remit. Reviewers generally do this work voluntarily and it is seen as part of the collegiate behaviour of supporting and maintaining a rigorous academic community.

But how long does it take to review a paper?

This voluntary system isn’t perfect. Sometimes it is hard to find 2-4 reviewers who are specialised in a particular niche area. Sometimes – with a the best will in the world – reviewers can’t meet the deadline they are given by the journal. Sometimes reviewers will disagree on the merits of a paper and another round of review will be arranged by the editor. Sometimes some reviewers just stink!

Also, the higher ranking the journal, the more papers will cross the editors’ desk every month. The more experienced the reviewer, the more demands are on their time. Some journals are simply more rigorous or better organised than others.

Add to this a second round of review, after any changes have been made to the paper, and the timescale can drift – even before a paper goes into a publication queue.

Of course, the problem is that most journals are not very transparent about how fast they turn their reviews around – and even less so on the quality of feedback reviewers give. So if we don’t know how long it takes to review a paper it can impact on our own attempts to develop our publication strategy. For example, as we start planning to move jobs, apply for grants, seek tenure and so forth.

What Elson and Ivory have done though is create an online resource where users can share their experience of submitting to various journals. By registering, users can add journals, record how long their review process took and rate their response to the reviews received. Even disregarding the potential for vitriol amongst unhappy authors, the site does highlight the manner in which journal decision times vary considerably as do the length and usefulness of reviewers’ report.

Check it out and add your own experiences…

Journal Reviewer

Featured photo by Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC

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