I am going to go ahead and assume we all want quality reviews of our journal submissions, however you define ‘quality’. Reviewers that take time to seriously evaluate your work, provide constructive feedback and ultimately improve the paper should always be appreciated. But as reviewers ourselves, we know that sometimes we don’t always give each paper our full attention. In general, I try to give good and helpful (to the author and editor) reviews. I try not to take on reviews when I know I don’t have the time to do a good job. Perhaps I am naïve but the impression I get from my colleagues and reviews of my papers is that in general most people are also trying to give good reviews.
This post isn’t so much about the quality of reviews (or tone, content, etc) but rather the timing of when you submit them. I was really happy to finish off a review and send it before the deadline this week—I sincerely try to meet my commitments for timing on reviews but this spring/summer I’ve been the worst I’ve ever been with that. I probably shouldn’t have said yes to any reviewing this spring but when something interesting came my way and I thought I could squeeze it in, I accepted. Nearly all of those reviews were overdue. But it occurred to me that I almost always submit a review around or on the deadline, regardless of how busy I am. Every time I say yes, I think, this time I will be different, this time I will sit down and just finish it early. Why wait a week or a few? It is like a New Year’s resolution that I fail to succeed at every time. Sometimes I get to reading them early and even starting the review but inevitably I end up not submitting until close to the deadline (or after). Why? Sometimes there are the usual excuses and I’m always juggling what should be done now vs what can be put off for a few days or weeks. For this latest review I had another thought: maybe I review as I do because that is what I want from others.
There is satisfaction in submitting but when a paper is ready for submission I am usually sick of it and don’t want to see it again for a while. No early response from the journal is encouraging because it usually means the paper got past the first gatepost and is out for review. That means I can forget about the paper and move on to other things. I realised that I don’t even want to see reviews for at least a month or more. Now even if everyone turned around reviews quickly a month is still a short timespan to find reviewers, get the reviews and make a decision so I don’t usually start wondering until about a month and a half go by. (UPDATE: see the comment by Stephen Heard for a rough calculation of the time it takes for a review to turn around and all the steps. Thanks Stephen!) It isn’t that I want a paper to stagnate somewhere but ‘in review’ is a nice breather to take a break from a particular idea and I don’t mind that waiting time. So my question to myself is: do I wait to complete reviews because I don’t mind waiting for my own to come back? I’m not sure if I can really answer that but it poses an interesting question—as a community do we behave as reviewers the way we like our own papers to be reviewed? Let’s find out!
Now be honest…
And here’s the kicker and time for a little soul searching:
Now I know that journals have different policies and timing for reviews so that will greatly affect the overall turn around time on submissions. But I’m curious whether we tend to unconsciously (or consciously) review on with the timing that we ourselves find acceptable or desirable.
I will continue my efforts to get my reviews in earlier than the deadline with the understanding that many might appreciate quicker turn around times, as even I sometimes do myself.