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  Table of Contents  
AUDIT
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 58  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 165-170
 

An audit of the editorial process at the Indian Journal of Cancer: Lessons learned, and how to improve chances of acceptance of your paper


1 Editorial Assistant, Indian Journal of Cancer
2 Ex-executive Editor, Indian Journal of Cancer

Date of Submission07-Dec-2020
Date of Decision12-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance15-Mar-2021
Date of Web Publication11-May-2021

Correspondence Address:
Sanjay A Pai
Ex-executive Editor, Indian Journal of Cancer

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_1319_20

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 » Abstract 


Background: The editors of the Indian Journal of Cancer (IJC) have not, so far, objectively analyzed the editorial processes involving author, referee, and editor data of the journal. Hence, we aimed at doing so in this audit.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed manuscripts submitted to the IJC from April 1, 2020, to May 31, 2020, for data related to the peer-review process. Microsoft Excel was used to enter the retrieved information and to carry out the statistical analysis.
Results: Three hundred and nineteen manuscripts were submitted during the study period. Of these, three were excluded from the study. Of the 316, 79 (25%) were articles on laboratory medicine; 182 (57.6%) were original articles. About half of the submitted manuscripts (166, 52.5%) were desk-rejected. Of the remaining 149 manuscripts, 105 did not follow the instructions to contributors (ITC) and required a median number of two revisions (range = 1–5) to satisfy the ITC. To review 107 manuscripts, 536 external referees were invited; of them 306 did not respond, 79 declined the invitation, and 151 accepted the invitation. Of these 151, 132 reverted with comments. Of the 200 Indians who were invited as referees, 118 (59%) accepted the invitation, whereas of the 336 non-Indian referees, only 33 (9.8%) did. Of the 107 Indian and 25 non-Indian referees who sent their comments, 86 (80.4%) and 19 (88%), respectively, offered useful comments. The median number of days to decision: for desk-rejection was 1 day (range = 0 – 42) days, for rejection after peer-review was 67 (range = 4 – 309) days, and for acceptance was 133.5 (range = 42 – 305) days. Decision has not yet been taken for 14 manuscripts.
Conclusion: The study provides evidence that it is difficult to get referees. Also, a significant number of authors do not read or follow the ITC. We suggest that the time taken for a decision can be appreciably improved if these issues are addressed.


Keywords: Acceptance rate, editorial process, instructions to contributors


How to cite this article:
Fernandes GJ, Pai SA. An audit of the editorial process at the Indian Journal of Cancer: Lessons learned, and how to improve chances of acceptance of your paper. Indian J Cancer 2021;58:165-70

How to cite this URL:
Fernandes GJ, Pai SA. An audit of the editorial process at the Indian Journal of Cancer: Lessons learned, and how to improve chances of acceptance of your paper. Indian J Cancer [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Sep 25];58:165-70. Available from: https://www.indianjcancer.com/text.asp?2021/58/2/165/315800





 » Introduction Top


The Indian Journal of Cancer (IJC) is the oldest cancer journal of India, and it has been on the Index Medicus/MEDLINE uninterruptedly since 1965. Over the years, this multidisciplinary journal has been adapting so as to meet the needs of the community and to stay within the ambit of the Indian Cancer Society's goal of providing a forum for the dissemination of information related to cancer. Some of the changes since 2007 have been for the journal to be hosted on the web, to be free full-text online, to be online ahead of print, and to have a Twitter handle.

Yet significant issues exist, and many of these involve manuscript submissions and getting good and quick referee comments. In our informal discussions, we had wondered whether more Indian referees accepted the invitation than did non-Indians and whether comments given by non-Indians were better than those of Indians. We were also curious to see the spectrum of subjects covered in the submissions and to evaluate the metrics such as time to decision.

In an endeavor to understand better some of these problems – and to answer our own queries – we evaluated some aspects of manuscript submissions over a specific period of time to determine what lessons we could learn and apply.


 » Materials and Methods Top


We retrospectively retrieved and analyzed the submissions from April 1, 2020, to May 31, 2020, on the online manuscript processing system of the IJC. We entered into Microsoft Excel sheet, information such as article title, date of submission, type and subject matter of the article, number of authors, country of article submission, country to which the authors belonged to, and current status of the article. The data was analyzed last on March 7, 2021.

Multiple-choice questions, news, and one manuscript that was submitted twice (due to error on the part of the author) were excluded from the study.

We define below some of the terms used by the journal:

Desk-rejection: Manuscripts with insufficient originality, serious scientific flaws, lack of significant message, or which are out of the scope of the journal are rejected by the editor without being sent out for review.

Internal referee/subeditor: Reviewer specialized in a particular aspect of oncology and who is a part of the working group of the journal.

External referee: Specialized reviewer not associated with the journal and who is invited for the double-blinded peer-review process.

For manuscripts that were found suitable for peer-review, we also retrieved information related to the peer-review process, such as the number of revisions before sending out the paper for review, whether the paper was sent to an internal referee or an external referee or both, the number of external referees invited, the number of referees who ignored/declined/accepted the invitation, the number of referees who actually reverted with comments, the quality of the comments (depending on the ratings that the editor awarded the referees), and the nationality of the referees.


 » Results Top


A total of 319 manuscripts were submitted during this period. Three manuscripts were excluded from the study as stated above. Hence, the total sample size was considered as N = 316.

Of these 316 submissions, 212 (67.1%) were from India, 97 (30.7%) were from non-Indian authors/institutions [mainly China (34/316, 11%) and Turkey (30/316, 9%)], whereas 7 (2.2%) were international collaborative studies. These manuscripts were submitted by a total of 1,398 authors from 27 countries; 889 (63.6%) of these authors were from India. Of the submitted manuscripts, more than half (182, 57.6%) were original articles (OA) [Table 1]. Laboratory laboratory medicine was the most common subject (79, 25%) [Table 2]. [Table 1] shows the data on the types of articles. [Table 2] shows the status of the manuscripts by the end of the study period as per their subjects. An exact classification of subjects was not possible for all manuscripts because of the multidisciplinary and overlapping nature of some papers, and hence, some subjectivity exists.
Table 1: Statistics on the type of manuscripts (n=316)

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Table 2: Subject-wise distribution of the status of the articles at the end of the study (n=316) as of March 7, 2021

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Desk-rejection

As seen in [Figure 1] and [Table 3], 166/316 (52.5%) manuscripts were desk-rejected and one was withdrawn by the author (within 24 hours of submission). About half the desk-rejected articles were too specialized for the journal, and the reasons for the other desk-rejections are given in [Table 3].
Figure 1: Statistics on the status of the manuscripts submitted to the Indian Journal of Cancer as of March 7, 2021 *Editorial rejection or withdrawn 22 (20.9%): Of these, 3 were withdrawn by the authors, and of the 19 rejected, 13 had not responded for more than 30 days with the revision, 3 had not followed the ITC even after multiple reminders, 2 were assessed by the executive editor, and 1 had authorship issues; ITC = Instructions to contributors

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Table 3: Statistics for the reasons for desk-rejections (n=166)

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Revisions (technical modifications) to meet instructions to contributors

Of the 149 (47.2%) remaining manuscripts, 105 (70.5%) manuscripts did not follow the instructions to contributors (ITC). Of these, 54/105 (51.4%) required additional revisions before being sent out for review. The median number of revisions to satisfy ITC was 2 (range = 1–5). The median time taken to move to the next stage by the 44 articles that followed ITC was 5.5 (range = 0–21) days, whereas that by the 105 manuscripts that did not follow ITC was 22 (range = 0–150) days. Some manuscripts were submitted, revised by the author to satisfy the ITC, and moved to the next stage on the day of its submission by the editor; hence, the range includes Day 0.

Peer-review

Out of 316 manuscripts, 127 (40.2%) were sent for Peer-review. Twenty of the 127 (15.7%) manuscripts were sent to only the internal referees, whereas 107/127 (84.3%) manuscripts were sent to the external referees; of these, 24 (22.4%) were also refereed by the internal referees.

Of the 107 manuscripts that were sent to 536 external referees with an invitation to review the paper, 79 (14.7%) declined the invitation, 306 (57.1%) did not respond, and 151 (28.2%) accepted the invitation. Of the 151 referees, 132 reverted with comments. Per manuscript, the external referees invited ranged from 1 to 15 (median = 4), whereas those who actually reverted with comments ranged from 1 to 4 (median = 1) [Table 4].
Table 4: Data on the external referees

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Decision

External referees were rated by the editor on a 1- to 5-star basis (1 being least useful and 5 being excellent comments), according to the quality of their comments.

Of the 132 external referees who reverted with their comments, we rated 88 (66.7%) as 5 stars, 20 (15.2%) as 4 stars, 6 (4.5%) as 3 stars, 9 (6.8%) as 2 stars, and 9 (6.8%) as 1 star.

Of the 128 manuscripts that required revision(s), 54 (42.2%) required up to two revisions, whereas 72 (57.8%) required revisions more than twice. The median number of total revisions required was 3 (range = 1–13).

As of March 7, 2021, out of 127 manuscripts that were peer-reviewed, 60 (47.2%) were rejected on the basis of referee comments, 36 (28.3%) were accepted but not published, 5 (3.9%) have been published online, 6 (4.7%) have been editorial rejections, and 6 (4.7%) have been withdrawn as per the authors' request. Finally, 14/127 (11%) are still under review [Table 5].
Table 5: Status of the 127 manuscripts which were sent for peer-review as of 07 March 2021

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The median number of days from submission to desk-rejection was 1 day (interquartile range [IQR] = 0–4, range = 0–42) days, from submission to rejection after peer-review was 67 (IQR = 32.75–111.75, range 4–309) days, and from submission to acceptance was 133.5 (IQR = 95–223.25, range 42–305) days.

The median processing time taken to reach a decision by manuscripts that followed the ITC was 64 (range = 4–273) days, whereas those that did not follow the ITC was 94 (range = 11–309) days.


 » Discussion Top


The players in the publication process are the authors, the editors, and the referees. Journals follow different processes for the evaluation of manuscripts. One such practice has been described in detail by Ramam.[1] Manuscripts submitted to the IJC are initially evaluated by the executive editor who often desk-rejects it for one of many reasons [Table 3]. Those that are considered of possible interest are evaluated to see if the most basic instructions (author/institute name should not be mentioned, lines should be numbered, institutional review board/patient consent is a necessity, and the references must be from MEDLINE/Scopus/Web of Science) have been followed. All of this is stated clearly in our ITC. Those that have not followed them are returned to the authors for corrections. Subsequently, most manuscripts are then either sent out for external peer-review or occasionally to a subeditor. The subeditor may referee the paper entirely or suggest that it can be sent out to an external referee. The editor then takes the final decision to accept or reject after a series of revisions based on the reviewer comments.

All this takes time, and delays on the part of the referee and even the editor are known and are responsible for much anguish and the apparently interminable wait that the authors face from the time of submission to final decision, and subsequent publication. However, our data suggest that authors too contribute to the delay by not following the ITC.

We, at the IJC, are aware that different journals have vastly different formats, and authors waste much time in reformatting their manuscripts to suit the requirements of the specific journal.[2] Thus, we accept submissions in almost any style. Yet we found that as many as 70% of the papers were submitted without following at least one of the most basic instructions. Our initial attempt to make it easier for the authors to submit their research appears to have failed.

Until now, some of the manuscripts that were desk-rejected were done so with a template reply and without any specific reason mentioned. Many of these were irrelevant to the readership of the journal (i.e., basic science), were submitted with blatant disregard to ITC, or were of very poor quality. Although the editor is dependent on the referees and the referees themselves offer free peer-review in their limited free time, it is only the authors who have complete freedom and are dependent only on themselves. Thus, not following the ITC is a malady that can be easily redressed. During the process of analysis of this study, we have changed our policy and now offer specific reasons for most desk-rejects. Many of them contain an additional statement that the ITC has not been followed – in the hope that authors will act in accordance with the ITC of other journals before submitting the papers elsewhere. The role of the editor, after all, includes educating authors.

This is obviously not a problem unique to IJC, and we note that other editors as well as IJC have raised the same concerns earlier.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7] In fact, some editors have stated that not following the ITC is one of the top reasons for the rejection of a manuscript.[5],[6] We have now decided, therefore, to soon interact with the editors of some of the other journals, from within the Wolters Kluwer group as well as some other publishing houses in India to create an ITC (a universal manuscript) that is reasonably similar across the spectrum of journals.[2]

We receive, from time to time, queries from the authors enquiring about our possible interest in their research and its relevance to IJC. We respond to such emails soon. However, based on the findings in the study and from our experience in the past, we have now decided to specifically state in our ITC that we welcome pre-submission queries. This will save the author's time as well as the editor's time and reduce subsequent author's grief.

Although this is a study over a period of just 2 months, we believe that it is representative of the work that is submitted to the journal because of the large number of submissions (N = 316). This was a randomly chosen period, and we chose it thinking that we would have a decision on most papers by the time we analyzed the data, toward the end of the editor's term – this would be important data so that the new editor would know what issues to tackle. That it coincided with the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic was a happenstance. Many findings were as expected. Most areas of oncology were represented. OA were the most common form of articles that were submitted. The number one position of laboratory medicine among the subjects is because of the many case reports – something that lends itself easily to, given the kind of field it is. Most case reports were, however, rejected. Not surprisingly, Indian authors were more prolific than non-Indians. Because of the time frame chosen, we saw a relatively large number of COVID-19-related submissions. Although we followed the standard procedure for these papers in terms of the peer-review process, we ensured that the COVID-19-related papers were published ahead of the non-COVID-19 papers, given the gravity of the problem.

We were a trifle surprised, but happily so, to see that as many as 82% of referees, who responded with their comments, delivered useful comments. Our perception in 2018 and 2019 was that a significant percentage of referees returned comments that were unhelpful. Hence, one of us (SAP) had written an article explaining to the potential referees what exactly we were looking for; furthermore, our invitation mail to the referees provides a link to that article.[8] We can only speculate whether the article was responsible for this apparent improvement. Nevertheless, the not inconsiderable number of referees – 13% – who do not deliver good comments remains an area of concern. The bigger issue, of course, is the large number of referees (57.1%) who totally ignore the invitation to referee. This includes many authors who choose to submit their papers to IJC but refuse or ignore the invitation to referee. This again is a matter that we have addressed before in this journal.[9]

We found that Indian referees were substantially more likely to respond to us than referees from abroad. We also found that Indian referees provided comments as good as the non-Indian referees [Table 4], unlike the study by Das Sinha et al.[10] who found that non-Indian referees provided better comments. Admittedly, their study was done two decades ago. The number of non-Indian referees invited initially was more than the number of Indian referees. This was a consequence of the fact that we often chose referees based on the references in the paper submitted.

The median number of days taken to reject a paper after peer-review was 67 days and for acceptance was 133.5 days (for the 95% of manuscripts for which we have a decision). Out of the 36 articles accepted, 5 (13.8%) have been published. To decrease the author's waiting period and to address the issue of backlogs, we have initiated an online ahead-of-print in 2019 and have increased the number of pages from 120 pages per issue in 2020 to 160 pages per issue in 2021. That 5% of the 316 papers do not have a decision at least 281 days after submission (May 31, 2020, to March 7, 2021) is a matter of concern.

In conclusion, the authors can help the editors – and in turn, themselves – and save precious time by following the ITC. The time saved by the editors on this would help speed up other areas of editing and lead to faster decisions and publication. To this end, we, as editors, are working toward a universal manuscript style and pre-submission queries. It is up to the authors and the referees to do their bit.

Acknowledgments and notes:

This manuscript was handled entirely by an external referee who is not associated with the Indian Journal of Cancer. We are grateful to him and the four anonymous referees that he chose, for their comments on the manuscript.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
 » References Top

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Ramam M. The manuscript review process: What do editors do? Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2016;82:599-602.  Back to cited text no. 1
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Pai SA, Pai M. A universal manuscript for all medical journals. Natl Med J India 2019;32:254.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
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Gupta V, Bhatia R, Pathak M, Ramam M. Analysis of submissions, editorial and peer-review process, and outcome of manuscripts submitted to the Indian Journal of Dermatology Venereology and Leprology over a 6-month period. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2020;86:519-25.  Back to cited text no. 3
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Jawaid SA, Jawaid M. Author's failure to read and follow instructions leads to increased trauma to their manuscripts. Pak J Med Sci 2018;34:519-24.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
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Rampal L, Liew BS, Oothuman P, Philip R, Mohd Sidik S, Hoe VC, et al. From the MJM editors' desk: Common errors authors make in submission to the Medical Journal of Malaysia. Med J Malaysia 2020;75:323-4.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
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Pai SA. Instructions to authors and other literary works of fiction. Indian J Cancer 2018;55:31. https://www.indianjcancer.com/text.asp?2018/55/4/315/253303 [last accessed on March 08, 2021].  Back to cited text no. 7
    
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Pai SA, Deshmane VH, Borges AM. Where are the letter writers? And the referees? Indian J Cancer 2017;54:591.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
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Das Sinha S, Sahni P, Nundy S. Does exchanging comments of Indian and non-Indian reviewers improve the quality of manuscript reviews? Natl Med J India 1999;12:210-3.  Back to cited text no. 10
    


    Figures

  [Figure 1]
 
 
    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]



 

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