When It’s Reasonable To Think Something’s Awry With Your Submitted Manuscript


When you suspect something has gone awry with the manuscript you submitted to an academic journal, when is it appropriate to contact the journal about it? And what are the clues that something has gone awry?

In response to that second question, here are some possibilities: (a) you have not received any acknowledgment that your manuscript has been received, (b) the manuscript management program the journal uses still says your submission is awaiting processing, (c) your manuscript has been sent out for review, but it is taking a very long time, (d) the editorial staff is not responding to your emails. (Other suggestions here welcome.)

But what’s the time frame on these?

To figure that out, the first thing to do would be to explore the publicly available information about the journal. The journal’s website may describe the typical timeline of manuscript consideration, especially when it comes to the refereeing stage. Or there may be relevant information available elsewhere (for example). But a journal is unlikely to have a section on its author guidelines webpage titled “When We Don’t Answer Your Emails,” or “Why It Seems Like We Haven’t Done Anything With Your Paper.”

So what are the appropriate expectations and etiquette for those matters not explicitly addressed by journal policy or third-party reports?

These questions are prompted by a recent email from a reader, who writes:

I submitted a paper to a journal well over a two weeks ago, but it still says it is awaiting administrative processing. Is this normal? If so, how long should I wait before getting worried? I’m a graduate student, and this is the first work I’ve sent out to a journal, so I’m not sure how long this first part is supposed to take (I understand that the review process has a reputation for taking months to complete). If you (or your readers) could help me out here, it would be much appreciated!

When it comes to acknowledgement of manuscript receipt, administrative processing, and other stages of a journal’s handling of your paper, how long is too long? Comments welcome, especially from journal editors.

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Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

This depends on the size of the operation. At some journals, especially ones not connected to major presses, there is precisely one person who handles the initial processing of submissions. And that person (unless they are on an illegal 52 week/year contract) is on leave from time to time. So two weeks to process something – especially over school holidays – is sadly not unusual.Report

David the Non Philosopher Former Editor
David the Non Philosopher Former Editor
4 years ago

Just a quick reminder that editors are volunteers, that it is increasingly rare for editors to receive institutional support proportional to the work, and so all queries should be addressed with kindness and collaborative spirit.Report

StillRambling
StillRambling
4 years ago

I would also some guidance on this. I submitted an article a year ago to a journal that states (on its website) the typical turn-around time for decisions is “three months”. The status of the article has been “Under Review” since February of last year. I wrote the editor last November, and received a prompt reply stating that “it is unclear to me whether a final decision has been made”, and asking for some more time “to solve this out with my associates”. I have not attempted any further contact, nor heard anything since.

I’m relatively new to the game–is this normal? When, if ever, does someone cut their losses and submit to a different journal? And does one risk reducing ones chances of being accepted by contacting editors (who presumably then contact their reviewers); I know we are all professionals, but we are also subject to human frailty, so I wouldn’t want to screw myself by annoying the people who have significant power over our careers.

Thanks in advance for any potential insight.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
Reply to  StillRambling
4 years ago

I would send them a new inquiry, replying to their last, at this point.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  StillRambling
4 years ago

I can’t speak toward the question about whether repeated inquiries hurt your chances but you can only wait so long. This journal’s behavior is not normal. Send them a new inquiry. If you don’t hear back in a timely manner, ask again. If you don’t hear back, if you hear back but get another strange response, let them know that you’ll be moving on to another journal.

I’ve always been a little disheartened when an article is “out for review” for 6, 8, or 10 months. I realize that finding reviewers isn’t easy, and that editors and reviewers are both overburdened (I say this while having two articles I need to review that I have had for three weeks now).Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  StillRambling
4 years ago

Not normal by any means.Report

benjamin s. yost
benjamin s. yost
4 years ago

It’s hard to know what some of these statuses mean, and in my experience, they differ among journals (at least those on different software). Sometimes “awaiting administrative processing,” or the like, can mean “waiting to secure enough reviewers.” That obviously takes more than 2 weeks in many cases.

As for contacting editors, in two cases — which resulted in publications in both of the journals in question — I emailed editors because things were taking a long time. In both cases, my paper had in fact fallen though the cracks, and the editors were happy to be alerted to the issue.Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
4 years ago

In my experience certain journals are professionally run and others aren’t. Avoid the poorly run ones, at least as a early career person. You can’t afford to have papers sitting on desks for months.

This is just based on my own experience but my list of well run journals includes: Synthese, Ergo, AJP, Nous, PPR, and European Journal of Philosophy.

This list isn’t supposed to be exhaustive. It’s just a list of journals I’ve always had good experiences with, meaning professionally run: relatively fast review times (less than 3 months), articles not left sitting on desks, quick responses to emails, decent quality referee reports (when given), etc.

I have a list of journals I don’t send papers to as well, based on poor experiences. I won’t share this publicly.

I will note that Philosophers’ Imprint just takes your money and provides no comments. I’ve decided not to bother with them anymore, but not because they are poorly run. I just can’t afford them!Report