Here is our featured author question for July.
Q: I have just submitted a manuscript to PLoS ONE. How long will the review process take?
A: Our authors often ask us how long it will take before they receive an initial decision on their submission to PLoS ONE and we appreciate that having worked on the research for months or years, authors are often anxious to receive news of the suitability of their manuscript for the journal as soon as possible—we endeavour to ensure that the review process is efficient, as well as rigorous. The following information should help to clarify what happens to your manuscript after submission.
1) In-House Quality Control (Tech Check). All new submissions are quality checked by our editorial staff, who look both for technical criteria (for instance, do all the manuscript files open correctly?) and content-related criteria (for example, have the authors appropriately declared any potential competing interests?). See our earlier blog post for more detail on this process and for some tips to help your manuscript clear this stage as swiftly as possible. Be aware that we may well need to send the manuscript back to you with requests for more information, which must be provided before we can proceed, however we try to get this check completed within a few days of submission (depending on your response times to our questions). It is only once a manuscript passes QC that we consider it to be formally submitted into our system (as until that point there may be problems with the submission that would prevent us starting the peer review process).
2) Section Editor Assignment. Most manuscripts are assigned to one of our Section Editors. The main role of the Section Editor is to assign the paper to an Academic Editor (AE) who will handle the review process. At present we do not have a Section Editor to cover every subject area in which we publish but the editorial staff will assign an AE if there is no Section Editor in the field. Authors can recommend appropriate Section Editors via their cover letter. The process of Section Editor assignment normally takes 1-2 days, although sometimes one of the PLoS staff editors may wish to discuss the paper internally at this stage before proceeding with the review.
3) Academic Editor Assignment. The peer review of each manuscript is handled by one of our editorial board members, who acts as the AE. We ask authors to suggest suitable AEs when submitting their manuscript to help us to assign it to an AE as quickly as possible. As a general rule we would encourage you to suggest as many suitable Academic Editors as possible – you are asked to suggest some at the time of submission, but please feel to add as many suggestions as you like to your cover letter (we do read the cover letter!). The length of this part of the process can vary depending on the number of AEs we have within a particular discipline and also depending on the time of year (our AEs are often busiest during the summer period, the winter holiday season and in the run-ups to NIH grant deadlines).
4) Peer Review. PLoS ONE allows AEs to make a decision on a paper in three ways: 1) by soliciting formal reviews from external referees; 2) by reviewing the manuscript themselves, based on their own knowledge and expertise; and 3) through consultation with other members of the editorial board. Inevitably, the length of the review process will vary depending on the route the AE uses to make a decision (although about 90% of papers are sent to review by external experts—see our website for more information). We ask authors to suggest potential referees when submitting. We may or may not use those suggestions, at the discretion of the Academic Editor. We ask external reviewers to submit their reports within ten days (although, of course, referees do sometimes ask for more time) and as soon as the AE has received all of the expected reviews, they are prompted to log on to our manuscript submission and send a decision to the authors.
On average, these four stages take about a month, in total, although, of course, because this is an average, the peer review of some manuscripts will inevitably take longer than this and it can be difficult for us to make any guarantees as to how long the process will take for a specific manuscript. If you would like to check on the status of your manuscript during the review process, you can do so by logging on to the manuscript submission system or by contacting plosone [at] plos.org (quoting your manuscript tracking number).