journal review time problems and how to fix them
About two weeks ago, I asked readers to describe their experiences with the journal system. I provided a list of journals and asked people to indicate how long it takes for them to get decisions. You can still vote if you want to.
Here’s what I take away from the exercise. Since people only tended to vote for the top journals, there isn’t enough data to say much about the smaller regional & specialty journals. This only applies to the most visible journals:
- The good news: Many journals seem to be doing a good job. The modal and mean answers for many journals seem to be “0-3 months” or “4-6 months.” We aren’t yet at the biomedical sciences model where most papers are judged in 8 weeks or less, but we definitely aren’t in economics hell, where the editors at top econ journals will routinely hold papers for a year or more.
- The bad news: There is important variation between journals and within journals. The worst offender seems to be Theory and Society. Almost nothing comes back quick. No one reported getting back anything in 3 months and most take at half a year. The AJS has enormous variance. Some papers come back quick, while others can take a year or more. Also, AJS was singled out by at least two commenters.
I’d also recommend Jenn Lena’s and Omar’s comments. Jenn pointed out that journals depend on editors. True. When I started doing sociology, Social Forces was notorious for keeping articles for a year or more, as was Gender and Society. Now, these journals seem to be doing well, even though a few people reported 1 year + (!) for Social Forces. Omar focused on journal status. Top journals have more resources and competent editors.
I give our journals get a B+ rating: doing good but there’s room for improvement. Here’s what I recommend to editors at slow journals. I speak from experience as the student associate editor at AJS, managing editor of Sociological Methodology, and an author:
- If you haven’t done so, switch to online submission. Online submission sites handle a lot of the nitty gritty and reduce clerical errors.
- Desk rejections: About 10-20% papers are not even competent or simply don’t fit. Get rid of these papers ASAP. If you need to justify the desk rejection, have your associate editors/editorial board write a short note.
- Choose editorial board members wisely. Yes, put a few stars on the mast head for prestige, but most of the editorial board should be chosen for professionalism. Same goes for reviewers – don’t pick famous people. Pick well behaved people.
- Slow papers: If people refuse to review a paper, then simply tell the author that you are having problems getting reviews. Don’t sit on it for months and months and make the author angry. Communication is a good thing. Then give the author an option – we can try again or you can honorably take the paper to a new journal.
- Reasonable reviews: Don’t wait for five reviews. Most papers can reasonably be judged with 2-3 reviews. If the reviews are ambiguous, be the decider. As an editor, you’re the expert. Only solicit extra reviews if it is really, really outside your area of knowledge and the reviews are really split.
- Bug reviewers – a lot!
- The author’s right of retraction: A more radical policy. A journal that can’t produce a judgment in 6 months or so has surrendered its right to an article. The author should be able to take it to another venue and have it be considered as “submitted to only one journal.”
If you use these rules, most of your submissions should be complete in 6 months or less.