Can a Peer-Reviewed Journal Publish Within 24 Hours?
If this was a strictly YES or No question, then the answer would have hypothetically been yes. However, it is not. So, we will have to empirically examine it. There are also journals that take long, sometimes up to two years to publish an article. We will talk about those too. The aim of this information is to help scholars make informed decisions when sharing their work with the world. We shall do this by sharing our personal experience.
At EANSO Journals we get quite interesting suggestions from scholars pertaining to the average duration that papers should take from submission to publication. Longer durations seem to indicate scrutiny and quality whereas very short durations could alarmingly caution authors that they are in for a ‘predatory’ trap. This is what ideally informed this article.
Interestingly, some authors complain that we are taking too long to arrive at decisions on their work whereas others usually get surprised when we give them the editorial decisions within two to six weeks. In fact, others go ahead and suggest to us that we should be backdating articles to make them seem superior by taking longer review duration. One even suggested eight months as a minimum duration for backdating whereas another wanted the process to actually take that long.
It is not only the ethics of this that is wrong but also the fundamentality. If a given journal’s process takes say 20 days, why would there be a need to dramatically tinker with the duration? Will such a journal still claim to be peer-reviewed? Wouldn’t that make the journal amateur? If a journal cannot be honest about how long it took to review your work, can you even trust that it reviewed the work in the first place?
This is not just a problem exclusively faced by our journals, many other journals across the world face the same problem. This is especially true for those relatively young journals that get drowned into the sea of conventions standardized by journals that started centuries ago. This dilemma alone and the innate inferiority complex that comes with starting out make most journals compromise on their own ethical standards to create a reputation of being scrutinous and thorough.
Editors start to hoard submissions intentionally in order to create in the authors a placebo sense of being in good hands. They will waste a month before assigning submissions to reviewers and take another month to notify the authors about the decisions reached. They will not even bother contacting reviewers to check on the review progress because they have all the time in the world to take. Apparently, in this business, part of client satisfaction is found in the length of time the journals take.
Honestly speaking, however, how long should the process take? Can it be completed within 24 hours? Let us first hypothesize that it can be done and make a decision about it using our own workflow here at EANSO. We only have thirteen journals to manage thus it must be an easy task.
Can 24 Hours Work?
When an author submits a paper through any of our submission channels, the office of the Editor in Chief must first look at it and make some very basic decisions about it. This happens instantly before the author receives an acknowledgment email and takes between 5 to 10 minutes. Papers that pass this stage are then logged into one of our tracking systems, assigned a tracking code and a prospective journal. This will again take at least 20 minutes. It is after this that the author’s submission is acknowledged and the tracking code issued to them. The paper is then forwarded to the prospective journal for review.
The hardest part becomes assigning reviewers to a submission. Even though we have a very qualified review team, most of them are accomplished academicians that you would book an appointment to meet under normal circumstances. You must inform at least seven of these per paper to improve the chances of a particular paper getting reviewed faster. This process alone might take at least 5 days. There is no need for us to even dream that we can publish an author within 24 hours at this stage.
Hypothetically, however, assuming that we get a reviewer instantly, it still takes at least a week to get any meaningful feedback on the review. Again, hypothetically, assuming that the reviewer just uses five hours instead to review a submission, we will still need to take it to a second, third, fourth and finally the fifth reviewer.
If all that hypothetically takes us just 15 hours, we will have 9 hours left to compile the reviewers’ comments, do the changes ourselves because returning the copy to the authors will waste time, do copyediting, publish the article and probably ask the author to pay somewhere along the day.
From our standpoint, it is almost impossible to practically get a peer-reviewed article published within 24 hours. For us to achieve this, we will need to have all our reviewers, copyeditors and publishers sitting in the same room discussing the same submission and working with a purpose to beat the time.
What about six months to two years?
To answer this, we should first ask ourselves a different question. How long exactly did an author take to research and write the article? Why should a submission that took one year to research and write for example take two years to review? Most journals have a word count range of about 3000 to 7000. This hardly amounts to forty double-spaced pages. To review 7000 words for two years can ideally mean that the reviewers only review ten words per day. This also ideally means that each page takes at least 18 days to review. This is even less practical than being published within 24 hours.
The real reason that some journals take up to two years to publish submissions is bureaucracy. That is the same reason that we cannot even dream of publishing a manuscript within 24 hours. Most of the time is spent looking for reviewers and even more time spent waiting for reviewers to be free. People organize meetings after meetings to discuss issues after issues. In fact, there are so many people submitting to such journals that some reviewers are usually fully booked and may take up two years to actually have a look at your paper.
Sadly, most scholars wrongly believe that their submissions start being reviewed the exact moment that they submit them and this is where the problem begins. This is why some scholars will want us to backdate their submissions, even though our reviewers are not fully booked. Their work is barely 3000 words, but they will not believe it if a reviewer gave them a verdict within a month. This is why some journals just waste time with your submission until you are ‘satisfied’ with the duration instead of explaining all this to you.
So, which is the best duration?
This question depends on a lot of parameters that include the nature of the journal, the discipline of the journal, the number of the available reviewers, the bureaucracies, the adopted workflow, the editorial policies, the psychographics of the clients, the geographical reach, the technology and the demography of the journal staff.
For example, high-quality submissions take less review time whereas low-quality submissions take longer. Highly technical papers will obviously take longer than reviews and so forth. Ironically as we have noted through experience, expert authors of high-quality submissions expect us to take longer to review their well-developed submissions and will automatically be doubtful if you accept their submissions within a shorter-than-conventional duration.
It is fun to note that the many months most journals used to publish submissions were initially as a result of technological limitations. Correspondence with writers alone could take months because most authors had neither mobile phones nor emails. We now live in an era where reviewers can correct authors in real-time. Anyone can be reached from anywhere across the globe. Books cited can be accessed from the internet without necessarily requiring to travel to libraries in search for them. You can tell an author to make corrections and efficiently get a resubmission within minutes. This is, in fact, the reason we started by saying that it is hypothetically possible for a peer-reviewed journal to publish a manuscript within 24 hours.
Critically and logically thinking, the primary focus should be accorded to the quality of the review as opposed to how long the review was undertaken. If we EANSO would effect a proposal of backdating review time or withholding manuscripts after review to extend the review time, wouldn’t that be lack of integrity? Manuscripts should be reviewed within the shortest time possible, subject to the availability of the reviewers. There should be no deliberate prolonging of the review period just because that is what used to be the convention. We hope that this information will be useful to you the next time you submit a paper for publication to any of the thousands of journals around the world.