The art of the polite inquiry.

I’ve been going on about those 3 papers I submitted. One is now in press, – this one, strangely, was the last one to be submitted, and is now the first one to be in press. The second one that I submitted, was also reviewed VERY  promptly, and is now in revision.  We plan to send this one back the end of next week, when we finish with one experiment suggested by the reviewer that is turning out to be very interesting.  But the subject of today’s post is the first paper we submitted… back on August 4.

I submitted that paper to a journal that advertises its quick turnaround time, so it was surprising to me that this past Monday I hadn’t yet received any word from the journal. When the paper hit one month after submission and still appeared as ‘under peer review’ status on the electronic submission system back in September, I sent an excruciatingly polite 3 sentence (or thereabouts) email to the editor- inquiring as to when the reviews might be expected. Shortly I was told, and thanking the editor up and down- I let this rest… temporarily.

This past Tuesday (Oct. 1, …), now nearly two months after submission… I am antsy. You see, my student- who is first author on this paper- is required to have a first author paper accepted in a peer reviewed journal in order to be eligible to sit for the board exam in her specialty (she is a veterinarian)…. and the registration comes around in December. I’m thinking we have enough time- but if the journal drags its feet any longer- we won’t.  Plus, I think two months under review is excessive, regardless of the circumstances.

So, I sent a second excruciatingly polite inquiry to the editor… and I noted that this paper was now under editorial review… and when might a decision be expected…not meaning to rush you, bla bla bla. We had a very civilized email correspondence- the essence of which was that four reviewers had been contacted and had reviewed the paper, three reviews (all positive) were in, and the fourth was woefully, painfully, extremely overdue. The editor allowed me to see the first 3 reviews, and decided if the forth review wasn’t available today (Friday, October 3), that an editorial decision would be made without consideration of the forth review. Now- after seeing the reviews of the first 3 reviewers- I was really thinking to myself- lady- WHAT are you waiting for??? Two more days I didn’t want to wait- but I prepared the point-by-point rebuttal and sat on my hands to wait for a decision. True to her word, she let me know this morning that the paper is accepted, and because I have already written the rebuttal and changed the text- we can turn that on around pronto and have two papers in press.

What’s my point?  My point is that earlier this year I waited 65 days for a review… this is totally and utterly unacceptable barring natural disaster, major illness, or other very serious and rare circumstances.  I was not assertive enough about this with the editor… in a nice way, … in fact, I wasn’t assertive about this at all. I am feeling my way towards what are acceptable and non-acceptable ways to approach editorial staff- and to learning my way to the limits there.   I feel like I have made a couple of steps in the right direction this week.

Now, I just need to finish the grant for Monday, a second one for a mid-October deadline, and a third for an early November deadline.  Then, I’m planning a long rest in an insane asylum and carpal tunnel surgery (not really!).


14 thoughts on “The art of the polite inquiry.

  1. Interesting post, one where I feel like I’m getting mentorship from blogs. 🙂 I’m glad it worked out in the end.

    But I’m surprised that you feel that 2 months is inordinately long to wait for a review decision. My impression is that that would be on the quick side in my field. I’ve reviewed three papers so far and I think I had 4-6 weeks for each of them. I’ve noticed my advisor often says she is overdue on reviews (although reviewing manuscripts is clearly a major, systematic weakness on her part that no one should ever use as a reasonable reference), but editors will give her lots of extra time.

    So I wonder, is review time part of the culture of different fields? Does everyone else think 2 months is a really slow review?

  2. I’ve had editors tell me they want the reviews back in two weeks, but more standard has been about 3 weeks time frame- and I have only ever been late once, and I was only really 1-2 days late…. for which I was extremely apologetic.

    Now, I’m sure a bunch of people are going to write in here and say that they don’t return reviews until the second or third late warning from the editor. To which I say- People- that’s someone’s career you are messing with and you shouldn’t take it on if you can’t do it ON TIME.

  3. Yeah, a labmate has still not gotten reviews back on a paper submitted in late July, believe it or not. It’s amazing that PIs sit on these things so long–I’m as big a procrastinator as anyone, but c’mon–some basic decency here! That said, my grad advisor was a 2 or 3 warning type, so I guess it’s karma.

  4. I’d say you are extremely fortunate if you hardly ever have to wait 2 months for a review. The journals you publish in must be quite swift. I’m happy when I get a 2 month turnaround- the norm is more 3-4 months, and I’ve known people to wait for 6 months with certain journals (which is admittedly far too long).

    Glad the paper was accepted- good for your student, and good for you.

  5. Its the same in our field- I’d be happy with a two month turnaround, but 3-4 is generally common. One fairly prestigious journal I recently had a paper accepted for took 6 – I admit to my embarrasment I never contacted the editor, because I had resigned myself to them rejecting it and was ready to slink away with my tail between my legs.

  6. On one of my PhD papers, I waited NINE MONTHS before even getting the “Okay, revise this way” message. I emailed the editor politely about every two months, and stayed polite the whole time even though I always got the vague “we’re working on it” reply. But I was the (by now postdoc) grad student first author, not the PI whose name they knew. I still couldn’t tell if I just fell through the cracks, or if they really were routinely that disorganized.

  7. Dr. J. – I’m with you on this one.

    Candid Engineer- Perhaps there are some differences between fields- but two months is 8 weeks, and seriously- how long does it take to read a paper and write a review?? And that is not field dependent… In the journals for which I review- if you have periods of time that you are extremely busy, you can block these out on your calendar and let the editor know that you are submitting a grant or something- they generally have respected this with me and have not sent me stuff when I say I’m too busy.

    Anon- 4 months is 16 weeks- to which I say again- how long does it really take to read and review a paper??

    Arlenna- 9 months… I suppose if it was C/N/S and that meant that they were thinking about it… that might be one thing. But- I don’t think it is cool when a journal advertises a quick turn around and then keeps you hanging even though they have 3 good reviews in hand…

  8. ScientistMother-

    I just did the resubmission for this last one. Now if we can finish that one experiment I’m planning for the third one to go back before the end of this coming week. I’ve got more in the pipeline awaiting only me to write them…

  9. ooohh noooo it was definitely not C/N/S. It was Joe Bob’s Journal of Sciency Stuff, a Home for Orphaned Chemical Syntheses of Not Much Interest. Therefore, maybe they were as bored with it as I was and just didn’t read it until the 8.5th month…

  10. still on that subject, lol, I just noticed today it has actually been cited a bunch of times–nearly twice for every year since it finally got published! I guess the topic is getting more popular lately.

  11. Congratulations!

    I’m ready for anything now after waiting more than a year:

    1) Waited 18 months. After various inquiries with no resolution I withdrew the paper (published in a more prestigious paper with added data, accepted without revisions).

    2) Same journal, 12 months, and when probed finally sent us e-mails saying accepted as is… We asked for reviewer comments but were not sent any.

    I guess the two average to = not submitting there again!

    (This is not a super-slow discipline – usually expect reviews within 1-2 months for such journals. Journal is a top tier journal in my field, not N/S but a step below, one of the top the prestigious field specific ones..)

  12. heh-

    Congratulations, but HOLY COW- 18 months. You could have walked to the editors office in that time and read him/her the riot act in person!!! That’s WAY beyond the polite inquiry!

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