Revise and resubmit deadlines?

Since we’ve talked a bit in the past here about the editorial practices followed by our profession’s journals, I thought I’d ask what people think about journals giving authors deadlines to respond to ‘revise and resubmit’ letters.

Most every time I’ve received a R+R letter, the journal has simply indicated that they’d welcome (or less enthusiastically, would be willing to consider) a revised version of my manuscript.  However, I recently received a R+R letter from a journal (I won’t name it) that asked me to send back a revised version of my manuscript by early November.  That’s a little over two months to do the revisions.  That wouldn’t be a problem if it were December or June and I could look forward to a significant break from teaching during which I could tackle the revisions.  But at the beginning of September, with the fall term dawning, a two-month window puts some significant stresses on my time and energy. At the very least, two months strikes me as unrealistic in a lot of circumstances, especially when the requested revisions are really substantive and might require, say, re-reading some of the relevant literature.

At the same time, I recognize that journals "are people too" and have a reasonable interest in wanting to move their own editorial processes along.  They have to plan articles in advance, taking into account page counts, etc., so wanting to know when an author might return a revised manuscript is a fair demand.  But  I wonder if stipulating a hard deadline, and a quick one at that, doesn’t take adequate account of the needs of authors.   

Here are two proposals that strike me as fair:

  1. If a journal really does have a policy concerning how long authors will be given to revise and resubmit, that should be made public in their submission guidelines.  That would enable authors to determine if they in fact could meet such a deadline or let authors time the submission of their manuscripts so as to make the revise and resubmit window fall when authors are able to deal with it.
  2. A good alternative might be to ask authors (in the R+R letter) when they’d likely submit a revised manuscript.  If an author’s response is at odds with the journal’s expectations (the author’s reply is ‘three years more or less’), then the journal could gently suggest an alternative deadline.  This way, the deadlines could be negotiated rather than unilaterally imposed.

9 Replies to “Revise and resubmit deadlines?

  1. I agree that two months is unreasonably. With the JMP, I normally let authors decide for themselves how long they would like to take. I would normally ask if I should expect a r+r in due course simply to get referees lined up. Otherwise, as an editor, I would much prefer an author take the time s/he needs then rush the piece (and possibly leave the paper not fully developed).
    My suspicion is that a journal that offered only two months for revisions is also a journal lacking any backlog and keen to run whatever it has as soon as it can…

  2. FWIW, I would email the editor and suggest a deadline with a little more room, mentioning the circumstances that led you to make the request.

  3. Could they be thinking that if they get the paper back quickly then the referees will probably remember it well enough that they can just look to see if the needed (or so they think) changes were made, whereas after a longer period they would essentially be back to square one so the paper might as well go to new referees and be considered a new submission? This seems to me to be a good rationale for setting some limit, but two months might still be on the short side.

  4. Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate here, but does anyone ever wonder whether academics’ sense of what it is to be busy or what it is to have a short/long time to work on something is a bit skewed? Surely I’m not the only one whose friends outside of academia laugh when I complain about how busy I am with my work, no? Many professionals, for example, lawyers and consultants, are often given writing assignments with little or not notice, and they are expected to get them done by whenever the boss says so. Receiving these assignments doesn’t involve any lessening in their other responsibilities – they just have to find a way to do it. I assume this means some very late nights and some work-filled weekends. But they do get it done, and I’m sure they do it well. If they don’t they lose their job. Why should things be different in academia?

  5. Surely I’m not the only one whose friends outside of academia laugh when I complain about how busy I am with my work, no? Many professionals, for example, lawyers and consultants, are often given writing assignments with little or not notice, and they are expected to get them done by whenever the boss says so. Receiving these assignments doesn’t involve any lessening in their other responsibilities – they just have to find a way to do it. I assume this means some very late nights and some work-filled weekends. But they do get it done, and I’m sure they do it well. If they don’t they lose their job. Why should things be different in academia?
    Maybe my case is anomalous (I doubt it), but I don’t recall many nights and weekends that aren’t already filled with work. I try to let myself have one night a week to drink a little too much wine, but even now that’s not a target I’m able to hit and we’re not even to the heavy grading part of the semester. Apart from these few hours relaxation, every other night and weekend day is spent working. Things are different in academia, but that’s because for some of us it’s worse. (Worse, that is, if characterized in terms of hours spent working.) Maybe this depends on whether you’re contingent faculty, but my guess is that the typical contingent faculty philosopher puts in more hours of work than typical professionals.

  6. Why should things be different in academia?
    Because academics don’t get paid anything like what lawyers and consultants do. I suspect that if you take the average annual salary of an academic and divide it by the average number of hours an academic works in a year and do the same for the average lawyer or consultant, you’ll find that the latter number is much larger than the former number. Also, you seem to be conflating two separate issues: (1) how busy one is, which is a function of how much work one has along with how much time one has to complete it, and (2) how many tasks one needs to get done by some impending deadline. I may have relatively few tasks with impending deadlines, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not busy, for I have many tasks (with no pre-set deadline) that I intend to get done (e.g., write a book, do what I need to do to get promoted to full professor, turn out some great grad students, etc.) and I don’t have enough time to perform all these tasks to my satisfaction.
    So things are different for academics. Compared to the typical lawyer, academics (at least, those with tenure) have greater job security, greater flexibility in terms of when they work, more freedom to work on projects of their own choosing. Why should academics get these perks? Again, because we don’t get the same financial rewards that other professionals get.

  7. I worked for five years in a busy and very good law office, not as a lawyer but as a trial assistant and investigator and worked the same sort of hours as my boss. I now do philosophy as my day job. I can’t say that one was clearly more demanding of my time than another, but that they were demanding in different ways. Both jobs are of a sort where the line between free-time and work time can be very blurry.
    Both jobs take writing a lot, but what one writes as a lawyer are often documents adapted from previous versions of the same thing with parts added for new facts an new legal arguments. There is real intellectual rigor and creativity, but not of the sort that needs time just to mull things over. What you are doing is thinking about how to use relatively well established principles and modes of argument in new and creative ways to have things work out for your client. (I did a good bit of ghost-writing in the law office, so I think I’m in a position to say that.) The job is to produce a document that will convince a judge to do what you want, or to make the judge so not want to decide the issue you are putting before him/her that s/he has an extra incentive to throw the case out on other grounds.
    At least for me that kind of writing is easy enough to do under pressure with lots of other stuff swirling around to distract me. Writing a philosophy paper is not really like that. It often requires more concentration to do well, at least for me. In philosophy we are (hopefully) more concerned to get things right with respect to the underlying issue at hand, not just to make our views convincing by somewhat constrained standards of appropriate legal argument.
    That said, normally asking an author so send something back in two months does not seem like an unreasonable request so long as one is willing to be flexible when the author writes back to say that this deadline is difficult to meet. Which means that I think that Heath offers some good advice above.

  8. Can I just throw in something as a journal editor? If the journal you’re talking about uses journal management software (as most Springer or Blackwell journals do), then often the “we would like your revision by a certain date” part is built into the letter that the software sends you. Why? I don’t know – this software is one size fits all, and there may be fields in which revision time is actually important. I can’t see how it matters in philosophy. But the point is, if the revise-by date is built into the letter, then the editor has to go in by hand and remove it. It’s easy to forget to do that.

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