Manuscript processing schedules

Geophysics editors and the SEG publication staff have made strong efforts to reduce the review and publication turnaround times. Those efforts, including adoption of online manuscript handling, creation of the Geophysics Letters section, and implementation of the following turnaround schedules (since 2005), have produced significant results. Geophysics is now a leader among its peers in efficiency.

Manuscript processing flow

A manuscript submitted to Geophysics is distributed by one of the four assistant editors to one of the 50 associate editors, matching the subject of the paper to the category of the associate editor. The associate editor manages the review process for the manuscript, assembling two or three expert reviewers, and makes a recommendation to the assistant editor, who makes a recommendation to the SEG Editor. The assistant editor contacts the authors if revisions are required.

In what follows, the arrow "" indicates the routing direction of a manuscript in the system, "AU" stands for "author," "ED" for "editor," "ASE" for "assistant editor," "AE" for "associate editor," "RV" for "reviewer," "CE" for "copy editor," and "MS" for "manuscript." Numbers (in weeks) in parentheses indicate the ideal time interval for the steps. The actual or typical times for some steps can be much longer than the numbers and arrows below would suggest. For example, the AE often needs to make several attempts to assign a sufficient number of reviewers and may need to assign additional ones when some reviewers do not do their work on time.

An ideal routing of a manuscript from submission to acceptance consists of these steps: author  staff (1)  ASE (1)  AE (1)  RV (3)  AE (2)  ASE (1)  ED (1)  AU (2)  staff (1)  ED (0)  acceptance. Because author revisions are normally necessary after reviews, an ASE often sends a paper to the AU for revision: ASE (1)  AU (5)  AE (1)  RV (3)  AE (1)  ASE (1) (for a full review with RVs). The process for a limited review without RV would be: ASE (1)  AU (5)  AE (1)  ASE (1).

After the paper is accepted by the Editor, the production steps for publication are: acceptance staff  CE  AU  staff  online publication  printing. The time from acceptance to online publication is approximately 2.5 months.

Manuscript-processing history (since 2002, when Geophysics started online submission) shows that when no effective timelines were enforced, the online review system was clogged with delayed papers. Although many editors, reviewers, and authors were timely, some editors kept papers for many months without assigning reviewers or taking other action. Not all authors are equally responsible about handling papers. Some authors resubmit papers to other publications and never inform Geophysics staff and editors, and some ask for a year's extension for revision and then another year.

Although we need adequate time to do a high-quality job, an effectively unlimited time allowance has been shown to result in serious inefficiencies. We cannot separate the overall quality of the journal from its efficiency. Some authors stated that they had submitted papers elsewhere because they thought it would take too long to be published in Geophysics.

Timelines for the processing steps

Timelines for the processing steps are guidelines only. Because Geophysics relies on volunteers (reviewers, editors, and authors) to review and revise the manuscripts, it cannot guarantee that timelines are followed in every step for every manuscript. However, all editors on the editorial board have committed themselves to efficient handling of manuscripts. Papers overdue from editors will be reassigned, backup reviewers are assigned when reviews are overdue, and papers overdue from authors (for revisions, queries, proofreading, collection of publication-related materials, etc.) will be withdrawn from the system promptly. We ask that editors, reviewers, authors, and staff members handle the manuscripts as soon as possible without waiting for deadlines.

Although some of the turnarounds below are very short, with wording such as "within one week, normally in a couple of workdays," we understand that occasionally the process may take longer. We ask that editors, reviewers, and authors keep the Geophysics staff informed of schedule exceptions longer than two weeks. Short reprieves from new manuscript assignments can be arranged for editors with extenuating circumstances (such as travel, family and work emergencies, etc.). For an extended absence longer than two months, we ask that the editor considers vacating the editorial position to ensure that manuscripts are not delayed.

Before listing the turnaround time guidelines, we first define a couple of terms: "AE Action Ready Date" (ARD) and "Manuscript Deassignment Date" (MDD). "AE Action Ready Date" (ARD) is the earliest of the following dates.

  • the due date of the most recently assigned RV
  • the date when all needed RV evaluations have been returned
  • AE's assignment date if the manuscript requires only limited review (involving no RVs)
  • AE's assignment date if no RVs are invited within the first two weeks of AE assignment
  • AE's assignment date if not enough RVs have been assigned

"Manuscript Deassignment Date" (MDD): MDD = ARD + four weeks.

Here are the turnaround time guidelines for the processing steps:

  • AU staff — Author's first submission is on author's own time.
  • Staff ASE — Staff checks over the submission before forwarding to it to ASE within one week, normally in a couple of workdays.
  • ASE AE — ASE assigns MS to an AE by subject area within one week, normally in a couple of workdays.
  • AE RVs – AE assigns three or more RVs within one week, normally in a couple of workdays. Because two solid, detailed review evaluations are required, it would be good to assign at least three RVs, to minimize delays. (Some RVs do only cursory reviews or do not perform at all.) If an invited reviewer does not agree to review within one week, the AE should invite additional reviewers and not wait more than one week for a response to a review invitation.
  • RV AE — RV submits evaluations to AE within three weeks of assignment. If a review is overdue, the AE follows up the automatic reminders by contacting the RV (by phone, e-mail, etc.). If unable to secure a quick review, the AE invites a backup RV within one week (normally in a couple of workdays) of the RV's due date. Because the AE's recommendation due date (see definitions of ARD and MDD above and AEASE below) is relative to the due date of the most recently assigned RV, the AE can postpone the AE's due date by timely assignment of a new backup RV. Thus, a performing AE is never pressured to return a recommendation without sufficient reviews, and an AE will not wait passively and indefinitely for a nonperforming reviewer.
  • AE ASE —AE returns a decision recommendation to ASE within one week of ARD, normally in a couple or days, or within two or three weeks of ARD in case of problems (such as language or writing issues, extensive AE annotations, etc). A paper with an overdue AE recommendation is to be deassigned (within one week of MDD, normally in a couple of workdays) unless there is a prior understanding between the AE and editor (or Geophysics staff) for a slight delay. The AE of the deassigned paper will be removed temporarily from the list of active associate editors. If the SEG editor does not receive assurances of timely handling of future papers from the AE or if the AE has overdue papers on more than one occasion, the AE will be removed from the editorial board.
  • ASE AU — ASE sends a revision decision to AU (if a revision is required) within one week, normally a couple of workdays.
  • AU AE — AU submits a revision to AE, within five weeks for a minor/moderate revision, eight weeks for a moderate revision, and 10 weeks for a moderate/major revision. The file of the manuscript with an overdue revision from an author will be closed and the paper withdrawn from the processing system.
  • ASE ED — ASE submits a recommendation to ED to accept or reject the paper (if no revision is required) within one week, normally a couple of workdays.
  • ED AU — ED sends "acceptance pending" or "reject" letter to AU within one week, normally a couple of workdays.
  • AU staff — After receiving "acceptance pending" letter, AU submits final draft and publication materials within two weeks.
  • ED/staff AU — After receiving the final draft and all publication materials for an "acceptance pending" paper, ED sends acceptance letter to AU or staff responds to AU in case of problems within one week, usually in a couple of workdays.
  • Acceptance online publication — 2.5 months.

Author revision-time extension policy

The time allowance in a major revision is for major rewriting, not for major R&D or an indefinite wait on data or management approval. The submission time also should reflect reasonably accurately the completion of R&D (including additional R&D and tests deemed necessary by reviewers). It is otherwise not fair to other researchers with similar inventions who complete their technical work early but submit at the time of completion. However, in some extenuating circumstances, we may extend, by a very limited amount, the time allowance for an author to submit a revision or the final draft before acceptance. The following are the guidelines for such extensions:

  • Do not grant an open-ended extension for an indefinite amount of time.
  • Do not grant an extension if the deadline has passed.
  • Grant a first-time request for an extension only if it is for a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the degree of hardship.
  • Do not grant an extension beyond five weeks from the initial deadline (extensions of this maximum five weeks should be very rare).

The above deadline policy may seem harsh in some truly compelling cases, but there is a continuous spectrum of special compelling cases for various amounts of extensions. Any rigid deadlines will be a compromise, and setting any limit, large or small, will leave out some compelling cases. Statistics show that flexible deadlines (without a limit on extensions) are slippery slopes and have been ineffective. Long turnaround time reduces the willingness some authors to submit leading-edge research work to Geophysics and reduces the journal's impact.

If an author misses the deadline, he can alert the SEG staff when submitting the revision. The staff then will contact the assistant editor and associate editor so previous reviews might be accounted for. (We cannot guarantee that previous reviews will be accounted for, however.) We hope that offering our assistance for continuity of review for resubmitted overdue papers is a reasonable compromise and is worth the extra effort by the editors and SEG editorial staff to improve the overall quality and efficiency of the journal.

For some well-written papers

For a well-written paper, if the comments from the reviewers and editors are all for minor technical points or minor language and style corrections, not embarrassing technical or factual errors, the Associate Editor may choose to request these minor revisions in the "Acceptable" letter (may need minor revision, to EIC without further review) instead of the "Needs minor revision" letter (with limited review) if the editors and reviewers find the paper "acceptable" after such revisions.

Reviewers, AEs, and ASEs are encouraged to consider the "acceptance" option if, after scanning through the review comments,  they see manuscripts meeting the above criteria and feel that the authors can be trusted to address the remaining minor issues. This may help avoid one extra minor revision pass (worst case: 5 weeks for author, 4 weeks for AE, 1 week for ASE) for some well-written papers. Often there are very few editorial comments for later rounds of revisions.

The copy editors are not expected to address technical points. The assumption for the above is that the author of a well-written paper would take full advantage of the available review comments to improve the paper. The un-addressed points of disagreements, hopefully few in number, are not necessarily flaws of the paper.

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