What take academic journals so long to publish my article?

Recently, I have been hearing my friends and colleagues about their poor experience with academic journals journals. Many of them did not receive response from their editors after submitting their manuscript for two to three months. Some were even worse — the manuscript was sitting in the system and did not send out for review for more than eight weeks.

Early career researchers often hear about the dreadful process of academic publishing; it takes people so long, usually a year, to get one article to publish. Nonetheless, even though the process is annoying, many academics still involved in the game of publish or perish.

So why it takes academic journals so long to get one article publish? Despite the fact that academics like to complain about everything (because they are trained to be critical), there are so many reasons behind. As an associate editor, I hope this article can explain some of the few things that early career academics may need to be aware during the publishing journal.

The structural issue

Just like every other academic works, most journal editors are ‘underpaid’. Or more precisely, it is only part of the workloads of an academic besides teaching, research, supervision, and meetings. Occasionally, routine work of an academic journal is less prioritised. Unless an editor only focus on working on the journal, they can only do it during their not-so-busy time. Therefore, I would say it’s normal for a manuscript sitting in a system for one or two weeks without anybody reading it. Indeed, if it is more than two weeks, I would suggest you to contact the editors, as something might be wrong in the system.

In addition, most editors would only read the title and abstract to decide whether the paper is a desk rejection or should send out for review. If the description looks interesting and fits the scope of the journal, they may read the paper briefly. In other words, editors normally do not read the paper in detail at the early stage. So, in order to get your article to at least send out to someone else to read, you need to work very hard on your abstract.

If your paper is fortunate to proceed to the peer-review process, congratulations. That means the editor may find some potentials in your paper.

Peer review is never easy

First, editors need to search for appropriate reviewers. Each journal has its standards, so it is hard to tell the criteria. Anyway, I would say this is the toughest job for the editor. Reviewers may decline invitation because they are all busy academics. Some may never respond to invitation — and it looks strange if the editor withdraw an invitation. I once had a paper that received eight declined invitations, most likely because people were too busy during university exam period.

Then, the editors need to wait for the referee report to come back. They usually give reviewers four to eight weeks. Personally, I do not think people need that long time to read a paper, and most academics, including myself would only do it in the last minute. However, it is a way to respect people’s schedule, given that peer-review is an unpaid work. Indeed, there are some reviewers who submit their report after a month of overdue, or worse, never respond after they accepting the invitation. As a result, editors need to search for reviewers again, which would delay the peer-review process.

Another possibility is that reviewers have contradicting feedbacks of the papers, or their recommendations are not helpful to the editor to make a decision. In these cases, editors need to find external comments as well — usually another round of peer review. My suggestion here is that early career researchers may want to work closely in the literature review and address all the debate in the field because those authors can be your reviewers. So if you are aware of people’s work, it is less likely that you receive contradicting feedbacks that may slow down the peer review process.

Therefore, it is hard to tell the duration of the peer-review process. It usually takes up to at least six weeks, but it can last six months. And of course, it is always appropriate to email editors to follow up with the process, though they cannot give you many information because it all depends on the reviewers.

Please respond to reviewers’ comments appropriately

99% of papers in academic journals would not be accepted as it looks. It is always some room to improve. If you receive an revise and resubmit (R&R), that means the editor is willing to work with you to get the paper to published (though this is never guaranteed).

If you want to get published as soon as possible, I would suggest you to respond to reviewers’ comments appropriately. This is the way to speed up the process. I once heard a professor that said, people need to revise their manuscript according to reviewers’ and editors’ comments because they are your readers. So, try not to argue with the reviewers unless their recommendations are utterly unhelpful. In fact, editors should have addressed them during the peer reviewed process. Also, the R&R is also a chance to edit and polish your language. Most top-tiered journals require high level of writing. Therefore, even if you study is significant but the expression is poor, the editor would request further revision, and this will, again, slow down the publication process.

Give it a try

Finally, speaking as an editor, I do not want to discourage people to submit their amazing work. Instead, please send something interesting to us to read. We welcome new contributions to the field and we are keen to publish good academic research. Hopefully this article would help you to prepare yourself of what to expect in the academic publishing.

Welcome to academia 🙂

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