Q: What does it mean if the status has been changing between 'Under review' and 'Assigning for review'?

Detailed Question -

After submission, the status first indicated that the editor has been assigned. Then, it turned to ‘Under review,’ which I thought was the internal review. Two days later, it changed to ‘Assigning for review.’ One week later, it was ‘Under review.’ (Note that ‘r’ was not capitalized.) What does this imply? Then, another week later, it turned to ‘Assigning for Review.’ It has been one month since then. Does this sound normal? Shall I write to the journal to inquire?

1 Answer to this question

I can understand your perplexity. I myself found the changes between the two statuses a bit difficult to follow at first read, and had to go through the query a second time to gauge what’s (probably) been happening. It felt like watching a table tennis ball during a long rally!

Anyway, coming to your query, firstly, I don’t believe the difference between ‘r’ and ‘R’ in ‘r/Review’ is anything significant. The two casings for ‘r’ may be due to an internal input difference at the time of creating the statuses in the system. However, if the two casings do indeed mean different statuses, ‘Under review’ could mean the internal review (by the associate editor) and ‘Under Review’ could mean the external review (by the peer reviewers). Again, though, it is unlikely the journal would have created such a subtle differentiation between the two statuses. ‘Under r/Review’ here, as in most cases, probably means the article has been sent for peer review.

What would be of greater interest (or concern) to you is the back and forth between ‘Under r/Review’ and ‘Assigning for r/Review.’ This is probably happening because the journal editor has been identifying and assigning suitable peer reviewers, but each time, they have been declining, perhaps due to challenges of time or conflicts of interest. The present status of ‘Assigning for Review,’ which has remained for a month, probably means the editor is still looking for reviewers for your manuscript.

As you have suggested, you could indeed write to the editor inquiring about the back and forth of the statuses. Additionally, if you do know of suitable reviewers for your paper, and if the journal allows this, you may suggest these names to the editor. Even if these don’t work out, the editor is likely to appreciate your keen gesture. In a worst case, if the journal is really not able to find suitable reviewers, you may consider withdrawing your manuscript and submitting to another journal, whether a related one from the same publisher or from another publisher.

All the best. Hopefully, the situation will get resolved soon.

You may also find the following resources helpful.