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Submitted my paper. Now what?

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).

First Steps

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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Comments

Thank you for a great overview. I submitted my second paper through ScholarOne this Wednesday. The first one to a total of 6 months but ultimately ended in an Accept (and my first scientific publication, yay!), now this second one has gone to "Awaiting Reviewer Assignment" in 4 days. Does this mean, that I have already past a desk reject, and that the paper is under review?

The first paper was rejected at the desk by two different journal before the third journal offered a review.

Hi - thanks for your comment.

The "Awaiting Reviewer Assignment" stage indicates that reviewers have been invited and therefore that the editors have sent it out for review.

All the best for your second paper - and congratulations on getting your first published!

You assert that ‘Once through [the stage “Awaiting Reviewer Scores”], 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.’ My experience is that reviewers are given deadlines of some months to produce their reviews, and many of them are nonchalant about exceeding those deadlines.

Editors can struggle over long intervals to find reviewers for some work, and these intervals may exceed the time take to produce reviews, but reviews are seldom generated in a few days unless the reviewer quickly reaches a conclusion that the work is unsalvageably bad.

Hi, thanks for your comment.

Apologies for the confusion here - when we say it will only be a matter of days to decision, we mean once it has reached the "Awaiting Recommendation" or "Awaiting Decision" stage. This is the stage that the manuscript goes to after the reviews are all in.

We are definitely not implying that reviews only take a few days - I've personally worked on many journals across many disciplines and have only seen a review turnaround in a matter of days on very rare occasions!

I was wondering what does "Awaiting referee selection" really imply? My paper's status changed only one day after submission to "Awaiting referee selection". So, I want to know whether my paper is still being evaluated by the editor or the evaluation has been completed and the editore decided to find referee?

Hi, thanks for your comment on this.

If it's "Awaiting Referee Selection", then it's passed its initial administrative checks (to ensure that it is formatted correctly for the journal) and the editor(s) have been assigned. At this stage, the editor(s) will assess its content and either select/invite referees or take an immediate decision.

So, in answer to your question, it is possible that the editors may still decide not to send it for review.

Thanks for this useful post.
How would you interpret this ambiguous situation... I submitted my paper about a month ago. Currently the submission webpage indicates two statuses: "Awaiting CE Decision" AND "Awaiting Reviewer Selection". Does it mean the paper passed the "desk rejection" phase, or that it might still be rejected by the cheif editor?

Hi, thanks for your comment - glad you found the post useful!

When a manuscript passes its initial checks and the editor is assigned, at that point the editor either has the option of sending for review or making an immediate decision (usually this would be a desk reject; although sometimes the editors may request revisions before peer review or accept if it's non-article content - Letter to the Editor, Editorial, etc).

From the dual statuses on your paper, I would suggest that it is at this stage so the editors could still proceed with a desk rejection. Once it's passed to the Awaiting Reviewer Assignment stage, that means that the editors have started to send out reviewer invitations.

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