Inquiring with the editor

An anonymous philosopher on the job market, who has several papers under review at journals, writes (from our Suggest a Topic Page):

I am wondering about the etiquette of sending a followup email to the journal editor. Can I simply inform him/her that I am on the market and would really like to hear something on my submission soon because it might seriously influence my chances of getting a job? How long should I wait before sending such an email? 3 months? 6?

I’ll speak from my perspective and hope other editors will chime in. Res Philosophica has a What to Expect page on its website where we outline when authors should expect to hear from us. We send out a brief note after the initial desk review, aiming to do so within three weeks of the initial submission. And then we aim for an initial decision within eight weeks. So we encourage anyone who wishes to to contact the Editorial Manager if they haven’t heard from us after each of those points in the process (three weeks and eight weeks). (Because we use triple anonymous review, the author should not contact the Editor directly.) But I would also encourage authors to contact the Editorial Manager about any question they have during the process.

If the journal has not indicated by when it aims to reach an initial decision, it’s of course still acceptable to contact the Editor (or whomever is appropriate to contact). Some philosophers I know think it acceptable to contact the editor within six weeks, and others eight weeks. I don’t think I would contact earlier than six weeks, myself, absent further considerations. But given the special circumstances, I would think a brief, gentle inquiry would be completely acceptable at six weeks.


5 thoughts on “Inquiring with the editor

  1. Sara L. Uckelman

    I would say that in general, writing to an editor to say that you really want to hear the results of your submission because you’re on the job market isn’t really going to have much effect. If the editor hasn’t already sent you a decision, it’s probably because one doesn’t yet exist, and the reason for that is because the referee reports aren’t in. If editor’s chosen deadline for the referee hasn’t passed yet, then there is nothing that the editor can do to speed the process up. (And if it has passed, the editor is probably already doing the requisite nagging.) So, the best the editor can do is write back and say “I’ll inform you as soon as I have a decision”, but knowing that the author is on the job market won’t in general significantly change the editor’s handling of the submission.

    I don’t think there is a problem in writing to enquire about the status of a submission that has been out longer than either (a) been out longer than the average response time stated by the journal or (b) six months. But keep it neutral: Simply ask for information about the status without putting pressure on the editor to justify why the submission is at that status. After all, I’m pretty sure that every editor assumes that every author really wants to hear the results of their submission, and doesn’t generally sit around with a bunch of decisions which s/he hasn’t bothered to notify the authors of yet.

  2. Fritz Allhoff

    I tend to agree with Sara: you *can* write and ask for an update, but what information are you going to get back other than that a decision hasn’t been made? If there was anything useful to have been said, it probably would have been. Maybe you’ll get something like “well, one review is in and we’re waiting for another”, which at least tells you *something*, but how does that help?

  3. Kenny Pearce

    I’ve been advised in the past, if journals don’t offer a specific timeline, to write to the editor politely inquiring about the status of the paper after three months, and then once per month thereafter. I was told that this ensures that the paper hasn’t been lost, and may also prod the editor to send a reminder to the referee. Perhaps the editors who contribute to this blog are either more organized or have better editorial management software than some other journals and never lose papers or forget to remind referees, but I have heard lots of credible accounts of this sort of thing occurring at various journals. (I myself had an experience in which, by inquiring, I learned that six months after submission my paper had still not been sent to a referee. That, at least, is the sort of thing where the editor has it in his/her power to speed things up.)

    Earlier commenters suggest that these sorts of inquiries won’t help you; what I’d like to know is, do they irritate editors? Could they actually hurt?

  4. anonymous

    I recently had a paper under review for almost exactly one year, at a journal that supposedly has a (somewhat) fast review time. The referee reports were complete approximately 4 months before the editor got back to me with a decision. Though I only contacted the editor three times during this process (the first time because the editorial manager system was being wonky, the last two times to gently inquire about the status of the paper), I think the third time pissed him off–perhaps because the paper was in his hands at that point. (The second time, I think, helped–he said he would prod the final referee and indeed, the referee handed his/her report in quite soon after that.) I would worry that if the editor herself is the one dragging her feet on something, that asking about what was going on would not incline her towards taking care of it. (The third time I inquired I got no response at all, and it was another two months or so before I heard anything at all.)

  5. Bob Pasnau

    I’m in agreement with Jon’s original reply. Everyone knows the field has a big problem with journal response time, and everyone knows how stressful it is for young scholars. I would be quite amazed if an editor took amiss the sort of query under discussion. And I think it could have a good effect. Of course, to some extent, even editors are at the mercy of referees. But there are things editors can do to speed the process along. Just be sure, if you’re going to do this, that (a) the amount of time that has elapsed really does warrant a query, and (b) you send the query to the journal email address, rather than directly to the editor.


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