Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

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Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

#11 How to navigate the peer review process

Read time: 5 min.

One of my manuscripts is currently going through peer review.

I thought of sharing a few tips on how to navigate this major publishing step as an author.

Any serious scientific journal is peer-reviewed. If not, then I would stay away from such a journal.

Also, serious journals have online systems to manage the author submissions, the peer review process, the communication between the editor and the corresponding author, the email notifications, etc…

Let’s start with the submission.

Waiting time

I submitted my manuscript on September 16th, 2023.

I received the first reviewers’ report on December 21st, 2023. That’s almost 14 weeks of waiting time.

The question is how long someone should expect to wait for a manuscript to go through the editorial and peer review systems.

This varies by field (field size and availability of reviewers), and the waiting time can go up to one year (or longer).

In terms of standard publishing time, here is how it usually works:

  • Editor-in-Chief receives and processes your submission (~ 10 days). This includes the assignment of an Editor to the manuscript.
  • The Editor identifies and invites relevant reviewers. Then the editor sends them your manuscript for review (~ 1 week).
  • 2 or more peer reviewers submit their reports (~ 4 to 5 weeks). This depends on many factors such as the time granted by journal editors to peer reviewers to submit their reports, and the reviewers’ availability to do so.
  • Editor processes the comments and sends back the reviewers’ reports with an initial decision (~ 10 days).

So, we’re talking about 8 to 9 weeks, minimum. That’s the ideal scenario.


The problem is that Editors are busy.

It’s also difficult to find relevant peer reviewers, who are also busy.

So, even when Editors have found relevant reviewers, it takes a lot of invitations and follow-ups to get them to submit their reviews.

Holiday seasons are also one of the reasons for a slow publishing process.

Having served as a peer reviewer for the journal I submitted to, I was familiar with the whole process. This specific journal asks the reviewers to submit their reports within 3 weeks.

So, in early December (3 months after I submitted my manuscript), I sent an email to the journal editor and simply asked for an update.

Make sure to include the title of your paper, the manuscript number, and the date of submission (this helps the editor locate the manuscript faster). Submission systems offer an option to communicate directly with the editor in charge of your manuscript and provide such information.

I also offered help in identifying potential and relevant reviewers if this was the main cause of the delay.

But this was not needed, I guess the editor contacted the peer reviewers and asked them to complete their reports as soon as possible.

Decision letters

Once the reviewers have submitted their reports, you will receive a decision letter from the editor.

The reviewers do not make any decisions but suggest outcomes.

In the end, the editors make their own decisions.

Keep in mind that decision letters are often written (semi) automatically by using templates available in journal management systems.

There are different scenarios:

  • Your manuscript is rejected (transferred to another journal or returned to you).
  • Your manuscript is directly accepted (unlikely)
  • Your manuscript requires some minor or major revisions, and you are invited to submit a revised manuscript within a limited time.

In the case of my recent submission, I had to resubmit by February 17th.
So, I had about two months to submit a new version of my manuscript.

Response to reviewers

I got the reports from 2 reviewers.
19 comments to address: 8 from Reviewer #1 and 11 from Reviewer #2.

Although #2 seems more generous than #1, the asks from #1 were more difficult to address.

One reviewer wanted more analyses and more references to specific theories. The other one wanted more context and more comparisons with previous studies.

Here is how I responded:

  • First, it’s important to be clear, comprehensive, and polite when writing back. There is no need to take things personally.
    The way I see it is as follows: addressing these comments will improve my manuscript. Attitude is everything!
  • I grouped the reviewers’ comments by categories:
    • Major comments related to the experiments
    • Major comments related to the requirement for additional analyses
    • Comments related to the literature review (important and relevant references that are missing, or references not accessible)
    • Minor comments related to the writing style (this might also happen even if you are an English-native speaker)
    • Minor comments related to typos
  • Then I responded politely. I thanked the reviewers for every comment and suggestion. I realized that a few points were probably not clear enough. So, I responded with more clarification and edited my manuscript accordingly.
  • Also, I didn’t have to agree with every suggestion made by the reviewers. Some suggestions were not feasible or out of topic and should be considered for another study.
  • I edited my manuscript where necessary and tracked the changes.

Then, I submitted the revised version on January 24th. So, this is the first revision round.

Revision rounds

I’m waiting for the Editor’s decision and the reviewers’ report as I write this newsletter.

The latest status of my manuscript shows “under review” (since January 28th).

I’m expecting an update towards the end of February. If not, I will ask for an update.

My manuscript might be accepted or go for another revision round.

A manuscript can go through multiple rounds if some issues remain, or new issues have been introduced.

One way to avoid such issues is to also get the comments from your colleagues (before the first submission to the journal, and before submitting the revised versions).

This way you will have more eyes (and brains) to fix any potential issues.

The peer review system is not perfect, it is slow and may be frustrating.

But keep in mind that peer reviewers provide their expertise to the advancement of science. With peer review, we have meaningful research questions and accurate findings based on reliable experimentation.

That’s it. This is a quick overview of the peer review process.

In conclusion: try to see the peer review process as an important step to make your study better. And follow this guide to turn it into an advantage.

As usual, if anything is unclear, please contact me and I will reply.

See you in the next newsletter!


My favorite things this week

  1. I’m just back from Kuwait where I had the opportunity to speak at a conference organized by Kuwait University: “Kuwait Vision 2035: Technology, Creativity and Innovation”.
    Lots of interactions with various research stakeholders!

  2. Several sessions with a major university in Nigeria. Working with research managers, researchers and PhD students is always my favorite thing.

Question of the Week

How do you manage the peer review process?

Share with us your advice in the comments section!

Quote of the Week

“We can agree to disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”
― John Wooden

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