Navigating peer review: Sitting and waiting – What can you do? What should you do?

Congratulations! You’ve submitted your article to a leading international journal (hopefully with a high impact factor) and have checked your author area within their online submission system to see that you’re now ‘awaiting reviewer scores’. Most online systems give authors the opportunity to check on the status of submissions: it’s a good idea to log in regularly to make sure that your article is moving through the peer review process. You will see little messages like ‘awaiting editorial approval’, ‘awaiting reviewer scores’, ‘awaiting editorial board comments’ and ‘decision pending’ as your article wends its way through this process. Eventually, an editor will make a decision and you will get your paper back with comments from peer reviewers.

Should you just sit, wait and do nothing as an author as this process runs its course?

No. One of the most common kinds of questions that we are asked during our paper writing and publishing workshops is along the lines of ‘I submitted a paper to a journal three months ago and I’ve heard nothing. The system still says ‘awaiting reviewer scores’. What should I do?’. Publication speed is very important to you as an author for obvious reasons: you must write to the editor if you have no news back about peer review and a reasonable amount of time has passed.

What constitutes a ‘reasonable amount of time’?

Well, the average length of time across the publishing industry from submission to online publication is three months or 90 days. We recommend writing to your journal editor if one month has passed and your paper appears ‘stuck’ in the submission system. Publishers are also interested in speed of publication, and many will use analytics to track this by journal and sometimes even by editor – so you are not the only one in this process with a vested interest!

Writing to journal editors about your paper

Authors, especially young researchers, are often nervous about writing directly to journal editors. Don’t be: this is your paper, your research, your career, and your future. [Get in touch with our team at Charlesworth and we can provide you with short templates for writing these kinds of emails.]

Some quick tips:

- Be polite but direct when writing to a journal editor. What’s the issue that needs to be addressed?

- Make sure your email is positive: what solution are you proposing to the issue?

For example, let’s imagine that your research paper is stuck ‘awaiting reviewer comments’ and two months have passed with no news from the journal.

‘Dear Editor: I am writing on behalf of my co-authors to enquire about the status of our paper submitted on x date, entitled y’. We see that this article is ‘awaiting reviewer comments’ and more than two months have passed: we have therefore taken the opportunity to suggest the names of some additional colleagues who would be suitable peer reviewers’.

Don’t forget to include two or three additional names and email addresses at the bottom of your short message.

It’s always a good idea to write and interact directly with journal editors. As we’ve discussed before, they are very often also busy academic researchers, running their groups, supervising students, teaching and, also, managing journals. Papers get forgotten about, reviewers are not chased. You must take the initiative as an author: editors will appreciate and understand this! Don’t be pushy. Don’t be aggressive. Always be polite, constructive and offer solutions to save the editor time.

End note

Once, in one of our author workshops, we were asked: ‘my paper has been in review with a journal for more than a year and I’ve heard nothing. What should I do?’. It’s your career. Please don’t let this happen to you!


Read next (third) in series: Navigating peer review: How to respond to peer reviewer comments – Minor revisions

Read previous (first) in series: Navigating peer review: Making your initial submission


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