Acceptance to publication time

13th Jun 2012

Journals vary a lot in how long they take to publish accepted papers.

Publication speed is one factor that many authors take into account when choosing a journal. The time from submission to publication in a peer reviewed journal can be split into three phases:

  1. The time from submission from the first decision
  2. The time needed for the authors to revise
  3. The time from acceptance to publication

The second of these cannot generally be controlled by the journal, because different papers need different amounts of time to revise and the personal circumstances of the authors can affect the time needed. So only the first and third phases should be used to judge the journal. I will cover submission to first decision time in a future post and will focus on post-acceptance speed here. By ‘publication’ I mean the first time the paper is made publicly available, whether online or in print.

What happens after a paper is accepted?

Most journals have variations on a standard procedure: copyediting, typesetting, sending proofs to the authors, checking the proofs, and conversion to various formats (such as XML, HTML and pdf). For print journals, there are extra steps of compiling the pdf files into an issue and preparing them for printing – these steps don’t usually affect the time to online publication, but see below for exceptions to this.

Copyediting involves a professional editor (sometimes employed by the journal, but very often a freelancer like me), who reads the paper carefully and ensures that it is accurate, clear, readable, in correct English and in the journal’s house style. Typesetting involves laying out the paper in the journal’s format for print or pdf, with the correct fonts and symbols and with the figures at their final sizes. Some journals use the figures as the authors provide them, others edit or even redraw, and most at least check that the figures fit with the accompanying text.

After typesetting (or sometimes before), the author is sent the proof to check, along with any queries from the copyeditor. Some journals use professional proofreaders to check the proofs after typesetting and after the author has sent their corrections, but nowadays this step is skipped by many journals. But someone still needs to incorporate the author’s corrections into the article and do final checks before publication.

In my experience copyediting, typesetting and proof checking a typical research paper usually takes a few weeks. So, if the process starts immediately after acceptance and isn’t delayed, and if there is no delay from a paper gaining its final form and being published, a corrected paper can be published online a few weeks after acceptance. However, delays can occur at any stage.

Some journals display a typical or promised time from acceptance to publication on their websites. I have trawled through lots, and below is a selection. If you find more, please do add them in a comment. Note that these times are neither maximum nor minimum times – they are probably what the editors feel is a typical time, allowing for some papers to be published more quickly and some more slowly.

You can see from this list that journals from the same publisher vary in their promised times and even in whether they promise a time or not.

Factors that affect publication speed

There are many things that can affect how quickly papers are published once they are accepted.

Publication in issues

Scheduling of issues is one of the commonest reasons for delays. Although most journals now publish articles online before print, there are still some that hold accepted papers in a queue until there is space for them in an issue. Elsevier changed to article-based publication in 2010, and their press release at the time claimed that this could shorten acceptance to publication time by up to seven weeks, to only a few weeks.

Some journals have backlogs of accepted papers that lead to delays in publication of months or even years. Others have got rid of these backlogs by changing to publishing online as soon as possible after acceptance and only later assembling papers into issues (I have been involved in helping one publisher with this transition).

Journals that publish only in issues can also delay particular papers for other reasons than space: if they aim for a balance of article types in each issue they may hold a paper over if there are too many of that type in the current issue; or if they want to publicise several papers on the same topic together, they may hold some of them until all are ready.

It is difficult to work out from journal websites whether they publish in issues or not. The best way to check for any particular journal is probably to look at the acceptance dates for articles in a particular issue and see whether they are spread out (in which case publication probably happens by article) or whether they are all a similar time before the issue date (in which case publication is probably by issue).

Copyediting first or later

The most common system is to copyedit, typeset, send proofs to the authors and perhaps proofread before online publication. Some journals, however, now publish the accepted version almost immediately after acceptance, and do any copyediting and typesetting later, replacing the accepted version when the edited and typeset version is ready. The latter journals can therefore boast acceptance to publication times of a few days or even hours rather than weeks.

I have been able to establish that the following publishers post accepted articles online before editing or typesetting for some or all journals:

  • Wiley (‘OnlineAccepted’ option offered by some journals)
  • Elsevier (Gastroenterology, publication within 5-7 business days)
  • American Chemical Society (all journals, ‘usually within 30 minutes to 24 hours of acceptance’)
  • Genetics Society of America (Genetics)
  • BioMed Central (all journals, ‘publication occurs at the moment of acceptance’)

Fast track articles

Some journals have a fast track that offers faster publication for selected articles. This can speed up publication of these articles, but it can result in slower publication for all the non-fast-track articles if staff time is taken up with the fast-track ones. The editors make the decision on which papers are fast-tracked, but authors can usually request it and their request may be honoured if their reasons are judged to be good enough.

The following publishers offer fast-track publication for some or all journals:

Acceptance date issues

When looking at journal acceptance to publication times, it is worth bearing in mind that the acceptance date is the date when the final formal letter of acceptance is sent to the author. In reality, the decision to publish in principle is often made earlier, and the authors receive an email saying that the paper will be accepted as long as they make some final minor changes. Authors often feel at this point that the paper has been accepted, and it is usually safe to celebrate at this point. But it is not a final acceptance, and acceptance to publication times are measured only from the formal acceptance date.

How to estimate how fast a journal will publish after acceptance

I suggest following these steps to work out how fast your target journal is likely to publish your accepted paper.

1. Check if it publishes accepted versions before any editing or typesetting. If so, publication time is likely to be 0–3 days.

2. Check if it publishes papers online as soon as possible after acceptance, rather than waiting for an issue (print or online). Check whether this happens to all papers or just when the author requests, and request it if needed. If your paper is in this system, publication time is likely to be about 3–8 weeks.

3. Check what the journal’s website says about the acceptance to publication times they aim for, and multiply by about 1.5 to get a maximum probable time. If this time has elapsed after acceptance, you can justifiably email the editors requesting an update.

4. Look at some recent papers: most journals give the dates of acceptance and online publication on the paper, and often on the page containing the online abstract, so you can get a feel for how much time elapses between these events.

5. If it publishes only in print, be prepared for a long wait!

Your experience

Researchers, how important is publication speed after acceptance to you? Do you know some particularly fast journals or publishers, or can you recommend avoiding others that are very slow? Or can you point us to journal websites that promise a certain time to publication?

Journal editors, could you tell us how quickly your journal publishes papers after acceptance? Have you considered publishing your target times on the journal website, and why did you decide to do this or not?

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19 Comments on “Acceptance to publication time

Misty Bailey says:

My December 2011 article in the Journal of the American Medical Writers Association looks at how editing manuscripts before submission to a journal may affect acceptance times.

sharmanedit says:

Thanks Misty. Is there a link to this article you could provide? Or could you summarise your conclusions here if it isn’t available online (or is subscriber-only)?

Misty Bailey says:

The article is, in fact, subscriber-only. Here is the abstract:
I sought to determine if science editing of biomedical research manuscripts before submission to a journal reduces time to acceptance in comparison with nonedited manuscripts. Dates received and accepted were determined for each (n=47) article reported by academic authors, and days-to-publication was calculated. Analysis of covariance, using each journal’s average time from submission to first decision (JAvg) as a covariate, and analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests were used to determine if a significant difference existed in mean time to acceptance between edited and nonedited manuscripts. When the covariate was considered, edited manuscripts (n=19) were accepted an average of 27.3 days earlier than those that were not edited (n=11, P=.374). Without the covariate JAvg, the mean difference was 31 days (n=47, P=.172). Although differences existed, neither analysis was significant, likely because of the large variances for days to acceptance. A post-hoc power analysis using mean and variance estimates obtained from data used in the ANOVA showed that a sample size of 95 per group would have an 80% chance to detect a significant difference at an alpha of .05. I expected edited manuscripts would have fewer days to publication than nonedited manuscripts. A possible reason for this difference is that improved clarity of manuscripts made for faster peer reviewer reading and required fewer corrections from the author(s). However, other, intangible variables may also affect manuscript acceptance time, such as differences in individual reviewer and journal practices; further analysis with a larger sample would provide more reliable results. (Bailey M. Science editing and its effect on manuscript acceptance time. J Am Med Writers Assoc 2011;26:147-152.)

sharmanedit says:

Thanks Misty. This analysis seems to be about submission to decision (ie peer review) time, not acceptance to publication time – or have I misunderstood? It will be very relevant to a post I am currently preparing about submission to first decision time.

Misty Bailey says:

Ah! Yes! You are completely correct. That’s more proof that I should not be doing anything of real importance at the end of my workday (as if I needed more proof)!

[…] Journals vary a lot in how long they take to publish accepted papers. Publication speed is one factor that many authors take into account when choosing a journal. The time from submission to public…  […]

Susan says:

I submitted a manuscript last November 2011 and have heard NOTHING since the initial confirmation of receipt. My supervisor has emailed and called the editor and NO RESPONSE. So rude. Very unhappy.

Lola says:

Where did you submit your paper?

Dana Roth says:

Has anyone tracked the time between ASAP publication and appearance in a formal journal issue. This affects when the article will be indexed in Web of Science and Reaxys … but not in SciFinder and PubMed which both initially index ASAP articles and link to full text thru DOI, and later provide full indexing.

sharmanedit says:

Thanks for this comment Dana. I don’t know the answer but would be very interested to hear it. I didn’t know that Web of Science didn’t indexed articles until they appear in an issue – this kind of thing needs to change.

[…] written previously about journal acceptance to publication times, it is high time I looked at the other important time that affects publication speed: submission to […]

For me this time is not particularly important for most papers. It is a bit annoying when you realize that there’s been a significant delay, but most of the time the big hurdle is getting the paper accepted for publication. After that happens I cross it off my list, add it to my CV and website, claim it in our institution’s publication tracking system (for performance ‘credit’) and move on to the next paper. It is then a nice bonus when I can go and get the pdf from the journal’s website after it’s been published later on. I guess if I think about it delay from acceptance date to publication date will necessarily affect how quickly it starts making impact (getting used and cited)- which is important.

Mary Purton says:

For FEBS Open Bio in 2012, accepted articles appeared online (uncorrected XML and author’s PDF) in an average of 7 days, with the final corrected XML and PDF versions posted in an average of 21 days. We’ve improved these times in the first 3 months of 2013: first appearance in 6 days and the final, corrected version in 16 days.

sharmanedit says:

Thanks for these figures, Mary. It’s good to see that they are improving, too.

[…] Sharman wrote a couple of excellent posts about time to first response for journals and time to publication after acceptance for journals. Following up my previous post on time spent at the journal (from submission to […]

jasonmcdermott873738820 says:

I reanalyzed data from a previous post I’d written on this subject and found that the time from acceptance to publication (for a small set of papers that I’ve written) is about 1.5 months, though it does vary pretty widely. See http://jasonya.com/wp/?p=245

Jeroen Smits says:

Information on duration and quality of peer review processes is now available on http://www.SciRev.sc, a new website where scientists can share their experiences with the review process.

At http://www.scirev.sc/reviews an overview can be found of all reviews that came in. Especially the ‘motivations’ given by many reviewers to explain their overall rating are interesting to read.

Jeroen Smits
SciRev.sc

[…] «Online first» er det flere tidsskrifter som satser på, selv om det fortsatt selvsagt har gått flere måneder fra forskningsresultatene var klare til de […]

[…] on this blog by far have been the surveys of journals with respect to their speed (of review and publication), impact metrics and charges (for open access and other things), so I will be doing updated surveys […]

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