Delays In Journal Publishing

Publication lags differ in different journals. Most journals now publish with each article the dates of the original submission, the revised submission and when the article was accepted for publication — which can be a year or more before it appears in print. Researchers can get a good idea of publication delays by inspecting this information in recent issues of the journals that they intend to submit to. Generally speaking, it takes longer to publish articles in high-quality journals (often well over a year), and short notes get published more quickly than full-length articles.

New technology has been introduced into the production processes of many journals, ostensibly to aid and speed up the submission process. Certainly, such technology assists in the turnround of papers between authors, editors and referees, and it perhaps saves about twenty-five per cent of the time here (Ware, 2005), but it does not necessarily speed up the decision time taken by these different people. However, the electronic prepublication of articles considerably reduces the time it takes to make them available.

Some delays in the publication process are caused by acceptable factors — such as a large number of papers submitted, and a back-log of papers in press — but there are some unacceptable factors too. Perhaps the worst of these is the inordinate amount of time that some editors and referees take to respond. Consider these messages sent to a postgraduate student submitting one of her first papers:

1 November 2005 23 November 2005

30 March 2006

8 May 2006 17 May 2006

18 May 2006

29 August 2006

8 September 2006 19 September 2006

Manuscript submitted by post to America.

Card received through post acknowledging that the manuscript had been received.

Email: Please be advised that your paper submitted to X has been forwarded to me as the new editor. I should be able to advise you of a decision within a month's time. Thank you for your patience. Email sent to editor querying the status of the paper.

Email: I am so sorry about the delay but it appears that several of the reviewers who were sent your ms when it was still under the editorship of X, have not replied to his request for reviews. I was able to get one review in but need at least one more. Can you send me an email copy of your paper and I will try to expedite the review process. Email: Thanks for your quick reply and for the electronic copy of your paper submitted to our journal. I think I will have another review completed within a week so we should be able to reach a decision on your paper very shortly. Thanks for your patience.

Email: I hope all is well and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. The situation with articles caught in the transition period of the journal is almost over and I am grateful for your patience. I now have the reviews for your paper (at long last). Two of the reviewers provided some very insightful recommendations that I will forward to you by surface mail. I should think that all of the points raised can be addressed in a revised paper. Please let me know if I should send the reviews to you or your co-author. I look forward to your reply. Email: 'The reviews are in the post.' Editorial decision: Accept with minor revisions.

10 October 2006

19 December 2006 21 May 2007

Final version of the manuscript submitted and accepted (by email). Proofs received via email. Publication date.

Similar difficulties for authors are caused by editors simply not responding. Here are the dates of messages sent to another journal:

20 May 2006 10 August 2006

24 August 2006

6 November 2006 25 November 2006 4 December 2006

26 February 2007

3 April 2007

30 April 2007 July 2007

The editor dealing with papers in this section of the journal is Prof ... at the University of ... I am forwarding your submission to him. (Editor) (Response to a query to this section editor as to whether the submission had been received and any decision taken.) Out of office reply: I am away from the University from 1 July to 12 July and again from 15 July to 4 August.

I received your manuscript but it may be a while before we can process it, because the appropriate section has only two slots per year and there is a bit of a queue at the moment.

[No response to an email enquiring about progress.] Please re-submit with minor revisions. Revised manuscript submitted with query to editor about suitability of one of the changes. [No response]

We are now putting the summer issue together. I have now forwarded your revised ms to my co-editors. Decisions concerning this section of the journal are taken in-house and involve three editors. We should be able to communicate an editorial decision by the end of the week. Please note that if we do decide to run it it may have to wait until the autumn edition (because there is one ms ahead of it in the queue).

I'm sorry not to have come back to you earlier. The good news is that we can now proceed towards submitting your paper to the printers. Before we do, however, there are one or two smaller comments that you may want to attend to . . . (This email message was accompanied by a phone call asking if these could be done within 2 days . . .)

Proofs received and corrected. Paper published.

Such delays are tolerable if the submissions are accepted, but, if the papers are eventually rejected or ignored, then it is hard not to feel that six months or more have been wasted.

Undoubtedly, being an editor must present problems — it must be forever like running up a downstairs escalator — for the task is never finished, but, if as an author you are expecting rapid publication, then you have been warned.

Some possible solutions to these problems are:

• Write to the editor to ask — if you have doubts — whether or not the topic/contribution of your paper is appropriate for the journal in question before submitting it.

• Post a copy of your article on the Web/your homepage (but beware that some journal editors might not then accept it for their print-based journals).

• Submit short notes to open-access web-based research journals, for example Lancet's fast track, PubMed Central, Physical Review Letters and Psycoloquy (as noted in Chapter 4.2).

• Post brief 'rapid responses' on the web sites of journals that accept them: for example http://bmj.com.

• Alert colleagues in appropriate web-based discussion groups of the availability of your paper (after it has been accepted for publication).

• Always have other papers 'on the go' in various stages of completion that you can work on while awaiting editors' decisions.

In addition, editors might consider reminding referees of their obligations (see Caruso and Kennedy, 2004), keeping track of their performance, or, indeed, offering payment to referees for fast performance (e.g. see Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research) . . .

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