Number of Submissions

The number of submissions has doubled over the past 15 years. This trend is not particular to IO. Other selective journals in international relations and political science also report large increases in submissions.


The graph below reports the decisions on manuscripts in the first round. Rather than plotting percentages, it is insightful to look at the raw numbers. The number of articles that IO publishes has not increased over time (roughly 28 each year). The increase in submissions thus results in a large increase in the number (and percentage) or “Rejects” and “Withdrawals” (our term for desk rejects). By contrast, the number of “Revise” decisions has stayed quite stable. Two-thirds of manuscripts that receive a ‘Revise and Resubmit’ as a first decision are eventually accepted for publication. This proportion has been relatively constant over time.

Some of the withdrawals involve manuscripts that are clearly inappropriate for any academic international relations journal. Most withdrawals, however, concern solid manuscripts that may very well be published in more specialized journals. We simply do not have the reviewer pool to sustain sending out all manuscripts, especially given that other journals report similar increases in submissions. Moreover, as the next graph shows, there is a cost to the author if we send out manuscripts that have a very high likelihood of being rejected.

Time to First Decision

We generally make “Withdrawal”" decisions very quickly, usually within a week of submission. By contrast, “Reject” decisions (based on exetrnal reviewers) take a little over 50 days on average. This is pretty good compared to most journals but the review process obviously adds time to the process.

The time to first decision has increased with the number of submissions. This is understandable. Peer review continues to rely on the volunteer labor of extremely busy professionals. We regularly hear from reviewers who are juggling multiple requests from journals. All of these journals understandably seek a timely review but there is only so much time in a week. One way we manage this demand on reviewers is by typically inviting only 2 reviewers. One of these reviewers is often a member of our editorial board, many of whom do 10 or more reviews a year for us.

We give reviewers a 30-day deadline to submit reviews. Reviewers are sent regular reminders before and after the deadline. Sources of delay include reviewers not responding to invitations to review, late reviews, and editorial deliberations on manuscripts. The latter is the main reason why “Revise”" decisions typically take longer. We take revision letters seriously and take our time writing them.

Medians obviously hide substantial variation in the time it takes to get back to authors. The graph below sketches that variation by decision outcome. The extremely quick outcomes are thanks to dilligent reviewers who quickly turn around our requests. The negative outliers are almost always reviewers who accept a review assignment but then ‘disappear’ or fail to turn in reviews after assuring us that it is forthcoming. We strongly encourage reviewers to let us know if they can’t complete a review in a timely matter so we can choose an alternative reviewer or inform the authors.