The benefits and limitations of the peer-review process are issues of constant debate. Surveys report that “Most (69%) researchers are satisfied with the current system of peer review” and “Almost all researchers (91%) believe that their last paper was improved as a result of peer review.” [Sense About Science Survey, 2009]. Despite support for the outcomes, one of the most consistently criticized aspects of the process is the delay authors encounter in waiting for a decision.
Our own [Taylor & Francis author survey] results indicate that awareness of submission status is one of the least satisfactory elements of the peer-review experience, scoring 7.6 on the satisfaction scale compared to an overall rating of 8.3 – not an enormous difference in score, but one that suggests improvements need to be made. One of the actions proposed as a result of the survey concerns improving communications with authors.
Providing authors with a status update of their paper at pertinent intervals could be one way to alleviate this dissatisfaction, by breaking the silence and providing news of reviewing progress. Such updates are a common customer services feature, with mail-order websites and postal services providing shipment tracking at every juncture until delivery. Offering a similarly proactive service to journal authors would show consideration and provide information that may be of interest to them using existing tools to achieve it.
ScholarOne uses a series of email templates to communicate with users of the site, linked to the status of tasks within the peer-review process; for example, assigning a new submission to an associate editor, or notifying them that all reviews have been received and the paper is ready for a decision. Throughout the reviewing process, these emails are used to notify admin, editors, and reviewers if they have a task that is pending or overdue. Typically, the only emails an author receives during the peer-review process are confirmation of their initial manuscript or revision submission, then the editor’s decision letters at the end of the reviewing process, but that needn’t be the case.
These email notifications can be customized and adjusted to include a huge range of information and recipients, including authors. Using the examples above to illustrate; assigning a paper to an associate editor can trigger a simultaneous email to the author to inform them that their paper has passed initial screening and has been assigned to an Editor for further consideration. Similarly, once a decision becomes pending, as well as the email to the associate to request their letter, an email can also be sent to the author to update them on the paper’s progress. These notifications can even be triggered in the event of delays, such as waiting on reviewers, to inform authors that progress is being made and the journal is aware of delays with the paper.
A range of these notifications have been added to several of our behavioral sciences journals and have been met with considerably positive feedback, as this quote illustrates:
“I want to give you some positive feedback about my experiences with my article submission. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the peer-review process, the editorial process has so far been second to none. I like how you have constantly kept me informed by sending me emails of seemingly small procedural steps that my article has gone through. You have achieved a level of communicativeness, organization, and forethought that I rarely experience when submitting manuscripts for publication consideration. Thank you for your excellent work.”
Behavioral sciences author