How to Count the Review Rounds in a Peer-review Process?

A PhD student recently asked me how to count the review rounds of a paper that is under review — and I failed to give a clear answer.

In fact, realized that I have always been a little bit confused about the issue myself. So I decided to clear up the confusion and get my thinking straight. Pondering the issue for a while, I came up with a simple rule:

A review round ends with an editorial decision.

Therefore,

The number of the round is the number of editorial decisions you have received plus one.

For instance, when you submit a manuscript for the first time, it is obviously on the ‘first round’ — and will be so until you get a decision. At this point, the manuscript moves to the ‘second round’ that is divided into two phases: i) revising for resubmission, and ii) under review. Once you get an editorial decision again — and if you are still in the game — you are on the ‘third round’, and so forth. The following schema illustrates this:

There is a caveat to the schema that needs to be discussed for the sake of completeness. The first round starts when the manuscript goes under review for the first time, since there is no preceding editorial decision. Many journals hand out desk rejections without sending papers to reviewers but the practices vary and the decisions are not based on reviewer feedback so I rather consider desk rejection stage as an additional gate to getting into a review process rather than a part of the process itself.

Using the schema, we can communicate the manuscript status unambiguously such as:

This is obviously just an example — in reality the process can take up anything from zero (desk reject) to infinite number of rounds.

That’s it!

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Aleksi Aaltonen

Management scholar, entrepreneur and thinker writing about academic knowledge production — www.aleksi.info