There is something of an air of mystery as to what actually happens to your manuscript once you’ve pressed that “submit” button. It seemingly goes off into cyberspace and you are left playing the waiting game.
These days, if you’ve submitted to a journal via an online submission system, you will be able to track its progress to some extent as you will generally be able to see what stage it’s at. The names of these stages can, however, seem fairly vague and almost worse than no information at all.
So let’s translate them. There are many different submission systems and the stages a manuscript goes through during peer review does differ system to system (and, indeed, journal to journal), so for the purposes of this post we’re going to look at the most common stages of the most common submission site: ScholarOne (formally Manuscript Central).
Initially your manuscript will go through stages such as “Awaiting Admin Checklist” and/or “Awaiting AE Assignment” depending on how new submissions are initially checked on the journal. These stages tend to be moved through fairly swiftly as they are just the editorial team checking that your submission is suitable for peer review and then deciding which of the editors will be responsible for it during the process.
Awaiting Reviewer Selection
This is the first stage of the peer review process and your manuscript will be here until the assigned Editor has selected some suitable experts to invite to review.
Once enough reviewers have been selected, then the manuscript will move onto the next stage. If only one reviewer agrees to review and all the others decline the invitation, however, your manuscript may well return to this stage while the Editor selects more. So if you log in to check on progress several weeks after submission and find your manuscript at this stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that no action has been taken.
Awaiting Reviewer Invitation
This means that potential reviewers have been selected, but have yet to be invited. Manuscripts quite often return to this stage if not enough of the invited reviewers accepted the invitation so further invitations need to be sent. It’s quite common for editors to select a lot of reviewers, but only invite a few at a time.
Awaiting Reviewer Assignment
This rather ambiguous stage is when reviewers have been invited, but we are waiting for the required number to agree to review. In other words, at this point, the ball is squarely in the reviewers' court!
In an ideal world, enough of the invited reviewers will agree to review and your manuscript will move on to the next stage. In reality, however, it is quite normal for invited reviewers to be unavailable and for your manuscript to return to one of the earlier stages a couple of times.
Awaiting Reviewer Scores
This is the stage that the editorial team will be striving to get your manuscript to as swiftly as possible. If your manuscript is at this stage, then enough experts have agreed to read and evaluate it and we just need to wait for the reviewers to return their comments so that a decision can be taken.
Once through this stage, your manuscript will move on to a stage such as “Awaiting Recommendation” and/or “Awaiting Decision” and it will generally only be a matter of days before a decision is sent to you.
So That’s It?
That’s it. There are, of course, many things that can cause delays to the process (for more on that, see our earlier post here) but the majority of manuscripts move from one stage to the next fairly swiftly.
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