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Summary: Peer Review Time-lines for Journals

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  • Summary: Peer Review Time-lines for Journals

    Dear group:

    Recently I posted the following message:

    ************************************************** *****************
    Dear Group:
    Can anyone speak to the issue of review time-lines for authors who
    submit to the various journals in the field of biomechanics. It appears
    that the waiting period varies greatly from one journal to the next. I
    would also like to know if there is any policy governing how long an author
    should expect to wait, either by the journal itself or by the international
    biomechanics groups.

    Clifford Larkins, Ph.D.
    ************************************************** *****************

    The problem, concerns, and fears:
    I posted the original message in order to see if others shared my
    frustration over the seemingly unnecessary delays I have experienced during
    the peer review process. Most individuals who replied, agreed that this is
    a problem. For example, Duane Knudson stated, "This is a problem I see with most
    journals. It should not be this way with faxes and the internet, but with
    all the people volunteering their time this clumsy system may be all we can
    expect." One was elated that others were voicing what he felt, "Bravo, It's
    about time the clients(users) had some feedback. I will do a mini
    survey with my colleagues and try to get back to you. I hope that you send
    a summary table out to the group (James Richardson)." Another individual
    shared my frustration by stating, " submissions take months, even up
    to a year which I think is wholly unacceptable." This individual then went
    on to say that he/she did not want to comment further for fear of reprisals
    from his/her boss.
    After reading the comments I received, reflecting on my own
    experiences, and studying the issues further, I am convinced that the whole
    peer review process has serious problems. See Mel Siff's posting, 18 July
    1998, and Stephen Page's posting, 20 July 1998, for a broader discussion. I
    have limited my summary, however, to the problem of review delays and
    in-press delays. The current peer review process can be hazardous to a
    researcher's career: grants are at stake, promotion is at stake, tenure is
    at stake, and the researcher's livelihood suffers.

    Types of Time-lines:
    From the comments received, it appears that there are three types
    of waiting periods that authors must expect: 1) the Initial Review Period
    during which reviewers read and critique the manuscript, 2) the Final
    Review Period (if the manuscript is accepted) during which the author must
    make any revisions suggested by the reviewers, and 3) the In-Press Period
    during which the publisher prepares the final copy for publication.

    Factors that affect length of waiting periods:
    From the information provided as well as my own experiences, I
    provide a partial list of factors that can affect the length of one or all
    the waiting periods. I have also listed the individual who contributed the

    1) the complexity of the research (Clifford Larkins)
    2) the promptness of the reviewers and publisher (C. Larkins)
    3) the length of time it takes the author to make final revisions
    (Jeffrey E. Lewin)
    4) the location of the reviewer to whom it was sent (Stephen Page)
    5) the current editor (S. Page)
    6) the backlog of manuscripts for the particular journal, etc.
    (S. Page)
    7) the length of the manuscript (Andrew Pinder)

    Below are some statistics provided by those who commented:

    1) In Press Wait for the September issue of the Journal of Biomechanics
    was 3-8 months (Andrew Pinder).

    2) The Dec 1998 (!) issue of Applied Ergonomics has papers which spent
    between six months and two years in the review/revision process, with most
    being received in final form in late 1997 (A. Pinder).

    3) Some journals (e.g. Clinical Biomechanics) ask reviewers to turn round
    manuscripts fairly rapidly (e.g. three weeks) (A. Pinder).

    4) Our experience is that three months is the average amount of time to
    wait after a submission or re-submission. However, a week after submitting
    a manuscript you should hear that the journal has received it or take the
    initiative to check that they have. There's nothing worse than waiting
    patiently for three months or so, and then calling up and finding that they
    never received the manuscript.
    (Glenn S. Fleisig)

    5) I regularly review for the Journal of Biomechanics and Physical Therapy
    who require me to FAX reviews back within a month, so the editorial board
    member is usually sending initial reactions back within two months. Both
    these journals are very rigorous and have long "in press" times, so it is
    especially important that feedback is prompt.
    My experience on the other side is much worse. Only one journal (old
    IJSB) got initial reviews back to me within 2-3 months. Most other
    journals are a minimum of 3 months, and usually more like 4 months before
    initial reviews are back. From my experience reviewing for seven over the
    years, this is unnecessarily long. (Duane Knudson)

    6) Human Factors Vol 40, No 2, June 1998 contains articles as follows:
    Received, Accepted, Published
    3/97, 9/97, 5/98
    3/95, 5/97, 5/98
    5/97, 9/97, 5/98
    8/97, 1/98, 5/98
    12/96, 8/97, 5/98
    4/97, 10/97, 5/98
    3/96, 10/97, 5/98
    4/96, 11/97, 5/98
    2/97, 12/97, 5/98
    5/96, 12/97, 5/98
    3/97, 10/97, 5/98
    7/96, 9/97, 5/98

    So that's, what, 9 months to 2 years? One can't be sure which delays are
    related to authors versus approvers. It appears the delay between
    acceptance and publication is 4 - 12 months (Jeffrey E. Lewin).

    7) In March 1998, I sent a manuscript to the Journal of Applied
    Biomechanics. It took 7 1/2 months for the editor to send me the initial
    reviews. After six months, I sent the editor a message asking about the
    status of my manuscript. He replied that he would check and get back to
    me. After another month (7 months), I sent another message again asking
    about status of my manuscript. Three weeks later I received the reviews of
    my manuscript. (Clifford Larkins).

    8) As sort of a rough estimation, the Journal of Biomechanics seems to take
    about 14 months after acceptance, and Spine is about the same (Scott

    Some of the individuals who commented on this problem offered some
    possible solutions. I have listed them below:

    1) Develop a policy on length of papers
    At the beginning of 1996 the Journal of Biomechanics tightened up its
    policy on length of papers, with the declared aim of reducing publication
    times (Andrew Pinder).

    2) Include Publication Statistics with each article published
    Some journals, though not consistently, publish with the paper the dates it
    was first received and the date of final acceptance. These give the vital
    clues about the length of the review/revision process and the delay between
    acceptance and publication. I wish all journals published this information
    on all papers. Perhaps journal editors would like to comment (Andrew

    The Journal of Orthopaedic Research lists this information on their "statistics"
    web page. (Karen E. Warden)

    3) Keep the author appraised of his or her progress
    The journal's editor should keep the author appraised of the status of his
    or her manuscript or/and provide a web page where authors can check its
    status as it moves through the process (Clifford Larkins).

    4)Set reasonable time limits for reviews
    Journals should set reasonable time limits for each stage of the process
    (the Initial Review Period, the Final Review Period, and the In-Press
    Period), inform the author of the time limits, and stick to them,
    especially when researchers as required to agree not to send manuscripts to
    other journals until the review process is complete. (Clifford Larkins).

    5) Be courteous, be helpful, and give constructive criticism
    The journal's editor should respond to queries by authors and within a
    reasonable time.
    (Clifford Larkins).

    6) Make the process less biased by providing more reviewers
    As Mel Siff (18 July 1998) and others have suggested, the internet should
    play a central role in the review process. This would open the review
    process to more reviewers and would, therefore, make the review process
    seem fairer and more valid.

    7) The review process for all internationally refereed journals should be
    monitored by the international biomechanics associations (Clifford Larkins).

    Any suggestions or comments are welcome.


    Clifford Larkins, Ph.D.

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