Dear journals: communicate with your authors
September 10, 2013
I just read Mick Watson’s post Why I resigned as PLOS ONE academic editor on his blog opiniomics. Turns out his frustration with PLOS ONE is not to do with his editorial work but with the long silences he faced as an author at that journal when trying to get a bad decision appealed.
I can totally identify with that, though my most frustrating experiences along these lines have been with other journals. (yes, Paleobiology, I’m looking at you.) So here’s what I wrote in response (lightly edited from the version that appeared as a comment on the original blog).
There’s one thing that PLOS ONE could and should do to mitigate this kind of frustration: communicate. And so should all other journals.
At every step in the appeal process — and indeed the initial review process — an automated email should be sent to the author. So for the initial submission:
- “Your paper has been assigned an academic editor.”
- “Your paper has been sent out to a reviewer.”
- “An invited reviewer has declined to review; we will try another.”
- “An invited reviewer failed to accept or decline within two weeks; we will try another.”
- “A review has been submitted.”
- “A reviewer has failed to submit his report within four weeks; we are making contact again to ask for a quick response.”
- “A reviewer has failed to submit his report within six weeks; we have dropped that reviewer from this process and will try another.”
- “All reviews are in; the editor is considering the decision.”
- Decision letter.
And for the appeal:
- “Your appeal has been noted and is under consideration.”
- “We have contacted the original handling editor.”
- “The original handling editor has responded.”
- “The original handling editor has failed to respond after four weeks; we are escalating to a senior editor.”
- [perhaps] go back into some of all of the submission process.
- Decision letter.
Most if not all of these stages in the process already have workflow logic in the manuscript-handing system. There is no reason not to send the poor author emails when they happen — it’s no extra work for the editor or reviewers.
Speaking as the veteran of plenty of long-drawn-out silences from journals that I’ve submitted to, I know that getting these messages would have made a big difference to me.