A simple way to cut article review times to near-zero

I received an invitation to referee an article today, and am going through the painful process of trying to estimate when I might get it done. I always give editors an estimate of when I can get the paper done before I accept, hoping secretly, of course, that my turnaround time will be unacceptable to them! For this paper, I really cannot get it done until after the new year. If I accept, and the editor lets me delay three months, the paper will spend three months (at least) in my inbox. For those who don’t recognize this phenomenon, it’s called waste. Which got me to thinkin’….

Fast-Track Review

How about a fast-track review process in which the journal requires (or perhaps accepts as an option) a one page abstract to reserve a review three months ahead of time. While the authors are completing the manuscript, the editor would solicit reviewers, who would reserve time on their calendars to review the paper immediately after receipt. Presto!— one week turnaround times!


  • If the authors are late, the reservations are cancelled and the paper goes into the standard, painful cycle.
  • If the editor suspects the paper won’t be acceptable even for review, he or she can refuse the reservation and insist on the standard full submission.
  • Scheduling three months in advance for referees can be a challenge, of course, so editors could reserve more capacity than required (say, three or four referees instead of two) and simply cancel the unneeded reservations. Who wouldn’t like to know he or she doesn’t have to referee a paper?

Am I missing something, or might this just work?


  1. If it works well, sounds like it moves some more work onto the editor earlier–the scheduling involved. But I’d think that the beforehand scheduling would remove work on the back end. Sounds like a very good idea.

  2. My biggest concern is that authors tend to be over optimistic regarding the time remaining to complete a manuscript. Variability would kill the process.
    However, there should be a solution: in the biological sciences, the timelines are very tight. Reviewers have less than thirty days to review, authors have less than thirty days to revise. Our reviews are long because we don’t perceive urgency. When was the last time you/we revised a paper for resubmission just a few weeks?

    1. It is possible that “variability would kill the process,” but the optimism problem also might be self-correcting: When authors discover that missing their deadlines throws them into the normal, painfully slow process, they might just learn to estimate a little more accurately!

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