How long do referees need to review a journal paper?

When I was an editor, I often encountered referees who did not usually review papers in my field. I was told that our aspiration of asking referees to complete their tasks in two weeks was unusual. Apparently, in most social science and management journals the time suggested for reviewing a paper is anything between four weeks and three months! This made our two-week deadline look rather odd. Of course, I was aware of other disciplines where the time suggested was 1-7 days, depending on the journal, so clearly there are some very diverse practices. Given that it takes a matter of hours to review a paper, I guess that what typically happens is that a paper for review waits on someone’s desk until they finally get around to carrying out non-urgent tasks. Perhaps I am wrong, and perhaps some people really are spending several weeks composing a review of a paper. What do you think? When you are an author, are your expectations and aspirations different to when you are a referee? What is the shortest time and the longest time that you would expect to wait for the decision on your paper, and what are your experiences, especially in different fields?

(All comments are moderated, so may not appear immediately.)

About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
This entry was posted in CM&E forum, Refereeing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How long do referees need to review a journal paper?

  1. Dr Philip Lawal (Reader) says:

    Journal article review is practically a thankless job and devoid of any remuneration. It is difficult to abandon income-earning jobs for such exercise. four weeks is a good period for receiving a meaningful review

    • Will says:

      Philip – interesting that for you the concept of remuneration is the primary concern here. I am sorry if you feel that this is a thankless task. Actually, from my point of view, we thank every referee individually and then at the end of each year, thank them publicly and publish their names in acknowledgement of the valuable service that they provide. And, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around, so one reason that you referee papers is that other people will referee yours. My feeling is that exchanging money would only deal with imbalances in the system. But with journals seeking 3-4 reports per paper, perhaps I should expect to referee 3-4 times as many papers than I submit for consideration. And since research papers determine career progression, I do not see this is as “abandoning income-earning jobs”, but a central part of what it means to be a paid academic! It is interesting and useful to contrast our perspectives on this.

  2. Kristina Smith says:

    Wow! Academia really does move at a different speed to business. Can you imagine writing a strategy document and waiting for three months for colleagues to review it? Three days would probably be generous…
    Are these people super-busy, totally timetabled, or just in need of time management tips from the business world?

  3. Henjewele says:

    I think it depends on circumstances. while in most papers I would receive several reminders, recently I finished a review within 24hrs. My experience is, the longer the time you are given, the more likely you will forget about the paper.

    • Will says:

      Henjewele, yes, if the timing is right, it is certainly possible to review a paper in a matter of hours. As Kristina surmises, above, it is not the task of refereeing that takes months, but the way that tasks are prioritize. I fear that a referee who needs several months is asking us to wait while nothing happens. If someone is going to be too busy for the next two months, why not decline the invitation and accept one later that can be fitted in?

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