The Peer Review Process: What Happens to the Manuscript After Submission?

What really happens to a manuscript after submission to a journal? This question strikes every mind, mainly people concerned with publication process such as medical writers, authors of manuscript, sponsors or pharmaceutical companies or others involved personnel. Being a publication expert, I have always encountered the same questions such as “How much more time will it take for the article to be published?”, “Is there any change in the status of our manuscript?”, “Why it is taking so long?”, “The journal has not mailed us from a long time”.

After submission to a journal, the manuscript undergoes a complete circle of review process.The major steps of the review process are shown in the following figure:

Figure 2

The manuscripts received by journals are considered as confidential documents. Most of the journals accept blind review policy (single blind or double blind) which is an excellent approach for diminishing any kind of bias in the review process. After submission, the corresponding author is notified immediately of the receipt of the manuscript and the manuscripts are assigned a unique number by the Editorial Office, which is called “Unique Manuscript Reference Number (UMRN)” or “Manuscript Identification Number (MS ID)” and is listed in all the further notifications. After MS ID allocation, the manuscript is cross checked for all the technical modalities.Completion of this step ensures the start of peer review process. All submitted manuscripts are entered into the editorial review to determine the novelty, validity and relevance of the content and conclusions and appropriateness of the manuscript for publication in the journal. This preliminary review will be conducted by the editorial review board which comprise of editor-in-chief, senior editors, associate editors, manuscript editors and web editors. The article may also be preliminarily reviewed by a subject matter expert. At the disposition of the editors, manuscripts may be rejected or accepted for publication in editorial review. If not considered for further evaluation, the authors are notified of the decision at this stage.

Manuscripts considered appropriate for publication will continue through the peer review process. During this time period, the senior editor attempts minimum three reviewer (experts in the field) selection and allotment. The reviewers will thoroughly review each and every aspect of the manuscript. Upon completion of the review process, a letter indicating the status of the manuscript and copies of reviewer comments will be sent to the corresponding author.

A letter of acceptance will be sent to the corresponding author after the assessment of the author’s response to the reviewer’s comments. The author will be required to return the revised manuscript within 15-30 days. The required return date will be indicated in the letter. At the discretion of the Editorial Board, revised manuscripts may be subjected to additional peer review. Based on the reviewer’s comments and recommendations, a manuscript may be rejected or accepted.

Manuscripts that are rejected are removed from journal’s database that includes the submitted text, figures, photographs and tables, as well as other supplementary material. The journal do not retain any part of the manuscript.The author will be notified regarding the editorial board’s decision of rejection along with the potential reason.

If the manuscript is accepted, the author is notified and is asked to pay publication charges (if applicable) to cover all the expenses of publication. After that the manuscript will be sent to production. Prior to publication the author will receive the galley proofs for review. The galley proofs must be returned to the senior editor within 48 hours of receipt. This is the last step at which the author can do minor changes in the manuscript.Upon completion of galley proof, the manuscript will be available online.

Figure 1

The time period of peer review process varies from journal to journal. Commonly, it takes 4-5 weeks for peer review process to complete, but some journals provide quick review, approximately, two weeks or less. For example, “Neurology and Therapy”, an international, open access, peer-reviewed journal that offers rapid publication of articles with a review time of two weeks and publishes after 3-4 weeks from acceptance. However there are few journals which take a longer time to complete review process, e.g.Social Science & Medicine”, an international and interdisciplinary journal takes 11 to 12 weeks to complete the peer review process. Most of the journals of “Elsevier publication group” claim to communicate decisions to authors within 4 months.

So after submission, have patience and wait till 4-5 weeks and if you do not hear anything from journal by this time, then there is no harm in writing a polite reminder email to the journal editor asking when you can expect a decision or an update on the status of the manuscript. Most of the editors of journals are or have been researchers themselves and would be well familiar with the author’s anxiety he/she faces when waiting to hear from the journal after manuscript submission.


Chandni Verma

Dr. Shivali Arora

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