WHAT IS THE LIFESPAN OF A MANUSCRIPT AFTER SUBMISSION?
The Lancet, 42 Bedford Sq, London WC1B 3SL, UK
The time a journal takes to decide on a manuscript and to publish the accepted papers (the manuscript's lifespan)
will vary according to the denominator chosen. The total lifespan is made up of time with journal, with reviewers,
with author, and in production. Some papers are published quickly (eg, items that are not sent out for peer review),
and inclusion of these will distort the mean in the journal's favor. For instance, the database of The Lancet for 1996
shows that the mean time from receipt to acceptance for all items was 86 days (ranging from research articles to reviews and poems),
and that for the research manuscripts was 126 days (a 43% difference). The mean times from acceptance to publication for the 2 categories
were closer 70 and 86 days, respectively). More insidiously, journals can weight summary statistics in their favor by ignoring outliers or
using dates to their advantage (eg, the actual date of decision as opposed to the date an author is sent a letter about that decision).
Some journals publish their manuscript-handling times, but the denominators used are not always clear. Journals should agree on a standard
definition, and display handling times in a standard form. It is important to separate research manuscripts from other types of submissions.
Authors are interested in the bottom-line figure, but editors may think it fairer to weight the data for differences between journals in numbers
of submissions, printed pages, and numbers of staff.
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