What to do about Overdues!? / How to meet manuscript processing time


Administrators are the key to smooth operations for the peer reviewed journal, but what happens when overdue tasks slow things down? What can administrators do to maintain the target manuscript processing time?


Review the tools available to the editorial office administrator to avoid overdues and meet the target manuscript processing time for the peer review journal

Gotta keep it moving


Though many may not realize it, the editorial office administrator is a key behind the scenes operator for the peer reviewed journal. The administrator is the first to view a new submission, to verify that it complies with guidelines and to decide whether or not it is ready to be sent to an editor to start the peer review process. It is also the administrator who, from the admin dashboard, has the overview over all journal activities, and the responsibility of keeping things moving right along. The administrator must ensure the journal does not accumulate half-processed submissions and also prod, remind and assist the various contributors to the peer review process in order to maintain the journal’s target manuscript processing time. As time to publication becomes more and more critical, the trend to reduce manuscript processing time puts more pressure on editorial offices.This blog post will highlight a few tools available to the editorial office administrator to help avoid overdues and meet the target manuscript processing time. .


Time parameters


First, let’s look at the time parameters set for tasks. Most journals in this day and age run on a peer review software system. This system most likely was set up years ago by the provider and the settings never touched again. Though it is not typical to make big changes after the initial setup, it could be a good idea to revisit the time parameters set for each task in the peer review process.  With a user-friendly peer review software system, these controls will be easy to access for the administrator so that the original settings can be checked and either confirmed or changed. The number of days each member of the editorial staff has to take action with their newly assigned manuscripts; the review time given for external reviews and even the number of weeks authors are given for resubmissions can all be tweaked if necessary. Adjusting the time parameters allowed for tasks will control when tasks appear as overdue on the user’s dashboard. Checking and adjusting time parameters is the first way to influence when the first visual reminder of the overdue appears. 


Wording reminders


Shortly after tasks are listed as overdue on the user dashboard, automatic reminders are usually sent by the system. These are emails which tell the editor /reviewer / author that a task needs to be completed. Reminders have time parameters as well, which can be adjusted like the task performance times. In addition, reminders have an editable message generated from a communication template. Templates in modern systems are easily accessible and can be edited by editorial office administrators. If your reminders have not been edited for a while, It might be time to take a look and consider whether they need to convey more of a sense of urgency. Of course, it is important to communicate to the editor / reviewer or, in the case of resubmissions, the author, that he/she/they is highly valued, but it is equally important to inform that it would help the journal to have the overdue task completed as soon as possible. This message is a delicate balance between firmness and gratitude which the experienced administrator will craft carefully. Mentioning that the journal strives to keep its overall manuscript processing time reasonable might help communicate the urgency. A newer edit of the template message might also include a request for a response if the desired time parameter cannot be met, so that the journal can make alternative plans for the manuscript. . 


Automatic invitation & cancellation


Another tool that helps to steer manuscript processing time, and which is available to journals in most peer review software systems, is the automatic invitation feature. This feature would be employed as part of an invitation strategy driven by the software system after the initial selection of potential reviewers. The potential reviewers are listed and prioritized by the responsible editor and then after the first invitation, the editor is free to let the software steer the invitation and review process. The main advantages of such a feature are two: 


  1. First, it’s easy on editors: This type of feature allows editors to monitor the peer review process without having the burden of steering it manually. The editor will be alerted when the required number of reviews has been met.


  1. Second, processing time: This is the part that relates to the theme of this post. When faced with a non-responder, the system will automatically send a cancellation message to the non-responder and invite the next reviewer on the list. This keeps the process on track timewise when it might otherwise be delayed due to the very human failings of a busy editor who forgets to invite the next reviewer.


Utilizing the automatic invitation and cancellation features might work well for some journals while also aiding in the overall reduction of manuscript processing times. However, turning these features on should be a joint editorial staff decision which is endorsed by editors.


When assistance is necessary


Administrators, as we’ve underscored in this piece, are at the heart of journal operations, and as that ‘point person,’ they also have to step in and assist others at times with the ‘Proxy’ feature. The use of this feature can be invaluable for keeping manuscript processing times on target when used in a discretionary fashion and with the consent and at the request of the encumbered author, editor or reviewer. 

For example: 

  • A confused author contacts the editorial office requesting a missing file be added to a resubmission. Proxying as the author, the administrator can both be helpful and avoid a time-consuming delay. 
  • The occasional senior reviewer, who refuses to go digital and emails his review to the editorial office contact. Proxying on behalf of this cherished reviewer reduces his stress while maintaining good relations and helps move the manuscript right along to the decision stage with all the data intact within the system. 
  • The editor who is due to input the decision on the manuscript, but suddenly cannot get to the computer. One phone call and the administrator can complete the process for the editor, and send the decision email on his or her behalf. 


Proxying is, of course, to be used in a discretionary manner, but remains one of the tools in the ‘target processing time’ toolkit available to the journal administrator.


In the end

Having features and tools built into your peer review system for controlling time parameters and following up on overdues is important, but the value is lost if the administrator doesn’t make use of them. The experienced journal administrator will know the tendencies of authors, reviewers and the journal’s editors, and proactively employ the tools available to steer the manuscript processing timeline. The administrator will also understand how important it is to walk the fine line between appreciating the journal’s valued contributors and reminding them when their task was due a week ago! Strike the balance – both in terms of the tools available to you and the relationships at stake. Utilize the necessary controls to ‘nudge’ tasks to completion when necessary, and keep your peer review journal running efficiently.


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Manuscript Manager 
Kultorvet 11, 2. floor
1175 Copenhagen K


Manuscript Manager encourages customers and business partners to uphold high standards in peer review. Thus, we refer to the standards of DOAJ, COPE and OASPA, when considering partnerships.

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