Q: Why is the submission and review process of the journal so slow this time?

Detailed Question -

I submitted a manuscript to a journal whose impact factor (IF) is about 3 and whose process is usually speedy. However, this time, it took five months to find peer reviewers, 10 days for peer review, three months for a decision by the Associate Editor (AE). Finally, I received a major revision decision eight months after the (initial) submission. However, after submitting the revised manuscript, it took two months to find reviewers, two days for the peer review, but now, I have been waiting for the decision by the AE for about two-and-a-half months. I have sent a few reminders, but the status has not changed. What is the possible reason for such a situation? Is there anything you I can do now?

1 Answer to this question

Welcome back to the forum, Dr Ogata. Based on the timelines you have provided, it seems your manuscript has been with the journal for over a year now. If so, we can understand how exasperating it must feel. Some manuscripts though have been known to take longer (two or even three years, and ending up with a reject decision). However, you have also mentioned that this journal is known to be speedy. (Based on which, it seems you have published with them earlier.) Anyway, you have two questions. So, let’s take them one by one.

Why is it taking so long this time?

One obvious answer seems the changes necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis. Based on your timelines, the crisis would have started a few months after you submitted, which perhaps explains why it took so long to find peer reviewers (with people having to move to a work-from-home situation rapidly and not initially having the infrastructure for it). Even though lockdowns have been eased in many geographies now and people have adjusted to working from home (or have been allowed to come to workplaces), a trend we are seeing is that papers are sometimes getting stuck with any or all of key people involved in reviewing and decision-making: the AE, the reviewers, and the Editor-in-Chief (EIC). In fact, getting stuck at the second round of the review is proving to be somewhat common, because reviewers seem to be busy with their own work or with other manuscripts. [For a somewhat similar situation, you may refer to this recent query by another researcher: Does the manuscript being in Decision in Process for two months after revision mean a rejection?] The same could be the reason for the delays on the part of the AE.

Another reason could be that this seems a quality journal, with an IF of about 3. So, it must be receiving a lot of submissions, which when taken together with the COVID-19 related work changes, may be causing bottlenecks at various stages of the process. However, we believe by now, most journals would have been able to make necessary changes to make the process as smooth as possible (if not as earlier).

Having said this, all this may be speculation at best. It would rather help to think about what your next actions can be, which in fact, is your second question.

Is there anything you can do now?

Here are a few suggestions we can make. You may evaluate them and proceed as you believe best. 

  • You could write to the AE again, this time expressing your urgency very clearly (in case you haven’t earlier). You could talk about things like how your paper has been with the journal for over a year now and how this may be impacting your academic/professional goals (or even the novelty or relevance of your research, in case your work is in a rapidly developing field). Of course, you may frame your response in the manner you feel best.
  • In case the AE doesn’t respond (although we believe they will eventually respond) and in case you have published with this journal earlier, you could consider writing to the AE of the previous paper (in case they are still there and in case they are different from this one) if only to ask them about the present AE. The earlier AE may be able to provide some insights into the potential delay and may perhaps be able to share your urgency with the present AE. Of course, you will need to do this judiciously.
  • In case you really don’t hear from them in, say, two or three more months (although, again, we believe it may not come to that), you may consider withdrawing from here and submitting elsewhere. You will need to make a pragmatic decision based on how much longer you are willing to wait to hear a final decision from this journal and how much time the entire process (from submission to publication) will take with another journal.

This doesn’t sound like an easy ‘prescription,’ but then, this is not an easy situation. Hope you are able to think through this and take the appropriate next steps. If needed, you may also consider discussing your options with a peer or senior. All the best for the next decisions/actions!

For a few more similar scenarios, you may also refer to these previous queries: