How long is long: Time in review for scientific publications

Though there seems to be a lot of anecdotal information about how long it takes to get your scientific paper reviewed by a peer-review journal there doesn’t seem to be much actual data about this. Although some journals (like PNAS) list dates for “sent to review” and “approval”, these may not include the whole process- time for editorial consideration for example- and are probably not representative. PLoS journals do a great job and list the date received and the date of acceptance, but I couldn’t figure out a way to get that information in bulk (I didn’t inquire by the way- maybe another project in the works). The length of time it takes to review a paper for publication can have numerous impacts on projects, grant proposals, and the ability to submit to another journal if the paper is rejected.

Having been a peer reviewer for some time I realize that often it’s difficult to return reviews on time, and this is one source of delay. Editorial delays, because of volume of submissions being considered or other reasons, is another. And then there are just difficult reviews that may take more than the normal number of reviewers because of conflicting reviews or reviews that are not clearly positive or negative. This process can easily stretch out over months. Then after reviews come back the authors must address the reviewers concerns and submit their revisions. This is also a source of delay, and can be highly variable. Some journals (BMC journals for example) limit the number of revisions possible on a single manuscript to two- but they allow resubmission of the revised manuscript as a “new” submission after that- presumably to be handled by the same editor.

Over the last few years I’ve tracked the time it takes to get a paper accepted, from the time of first submission, for papers that I’m responsible for (first or last author papers). This doesn’t include rejected papers- some of those times, especially for higher impact journals where the initial decisions whether a paper will be peer reviewed at all are made by editors and turnaround is generally fairly quick.

This is NOT a representative sample, but it does capture many of the elements I’ve discussed above. These numbers are pretty in-line with an evaluation of PLoS One turnaround times.

So the answer is: No, I wouldn’t consider 100 days to be fast, but it’s not exactly slow either. In fact, it may be in line with what can generally be expected from the scientific publication system. I’d be very interested to hear other researchers’ opinions on their times in peer review and if you have data all the better.

Table. Survey of time in review for a number of my own papers.

PMID Journal Days in review Months
23335946 Expert opinions 142 4.7
22546282 BMC Sys Bio 335 11.2
23071432 PLoS CB 366 12.2
22745654 PLoS One 198 6.6
22074594 BMC Sys Bio 103 3.4
21698331 Mol BioSystems 137 4.6
21339814 PLoS One 193 6.4
20974833 Infection and Immunity 55 1.8
20877914 Mol BioSystems 36 1.2
19390620 PLoS Pathogens 132 4.4
Mean 170 5.7
  Std dev 108 4


9 thoughts on “How long is long: Time in review for scientific publications

  1. Pingback: Time to review for scientific publications revisited | The Mad Scientist Confectioner's Club

  2. I couldn’t resist checking my own … so here’s for 11 papers selected by the not-so-very well controlled procedure that I picked stuff I could quickly locate among the contents in my inbox.
    Mean: 76 days
    Standard deviation: 36 days
    Median: 90 days
    That’s from the fields of condensed matter physics and nano-blah-blah.

    Also from me: No 100 days is not very fast, but I think that the open access journals with a publish-without-prejudging-impact philosophy might come out bad here though, since they sort out less of the junk on the editorial stage and it tends to be the crap that spends a long time in review. And here I mean the badly conducted/written up stuff, I find that if I merely dislike it or think it is unsuitable for the journal it is pretty quick to review, as long as it is well written.

  3. Hi there, great post, thanks for all the info. I’ve been thinking of making a website where authors enter their own data on peer review time for different journals, to get a big data-set on this that could help authors choose the quicker journals when they want a quick decision on a paper. The idea is to gather data from authors, NOT journals, since some journals lately have been using the strategy of deciding for “rejection with the possibility of re-submission” to start the process over, ‘re-set the clock’, and advertise a short review time. What do you think of this idea? Have you gathered more data on this since this post? Are you aware of anyone doing anything similar to what I have just described? Any ideas are appreciated! 🙂

    • I think this is a great idea and no, I don’t know of anyone doing it. I agree that gathering the data from authors will give you a different (more accurate answer). Let me think about it more and I’ll try to add some more ideas here.

  4. Hi Jasonya,

    I was looking up for some good information about time journals usually take for publications and that’s how I discovered your blog. I can’t believe that I had not come across it earlier. I have really enjoyed reading your work and especially, the Red Pen/ Black Pen comics! You are now part of my Feedly 🙂

    Reg this article, I have included it in my post and you should get a pingback. In case you don’t, here is the link,
    If you can please read it and let me know your thoughts on this. 🙂

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to more posts from you!

    • Thanks for your interest and feedback! I’ll take a look at your post (but probably not until I’m back from vacation 🙂

  5. Hi Jasonya, Currently I am writing an article about misconduct. A part of the discussion is dedicated to journal publication time. I see you have provide a rich data about your experience with Plosone. I wonder if you have any data about The lancet, NEJM and other high impact journals. Or you might read some papers which is stating some average publication time at the medical journals.
    It will be a great help if you can provide some tips.

    • Hi Solmaz- I don’t have any information about those journals. All the information I used for this post was from my own experience with a limited set of journals. It would certainly be interesting to see if there are any other sites doing this though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *