Interpretation peer-review guidelines

Interpretation strives to make the review process rigorous, constructive, transparent, and efficient. The reviewers can opt to reveal their identities. A manuscript usually undergoes at least one revision before acceptance. The reviewers provide independent evaluations of both the original submission and each subsequent revision. Reviewers of a revised version also can see the data of the previous passes, which include evaluations by the editors and other reviewers and the responses by the author to the previous reviews.  The authors, reviewers, editors, and staff handle all aspects of the review process online with actively managed review schedules.

Related links:
Legal status of papers in review
Online peer review

Manuscript processing flow and turnarounds

A manuscript submitted to Interpretation is assigned by the tracking staff to an associate editor (AE: an editor from the editorial board or a guest editor) according to the manuscript type designated by the author (AU). The associate editor manages the review process, which involves assembling a panel of three or more expert reviewers (RE) to evaluate the paper, corresponding with the author with respect to revisions, and making the final-decision recommendation to the editor-in-chief (EIC). An accepted paper goes to the copyeditor (CE) and publication staff. Thus, from the initial submission (R0) to revisions (R1, R2 …) and to publication, here is the idealized path of a successful manuscript (where the numbers in parentheses indicate the turnarounds in weeks for the steps):

R0 → staff (1) → AE(1) → RE(3) → AE(2 for revision decision) → AU (4 or 8 for R1) → AE (2 for final decision recommendation) → EIC (1 for tentative accept) → AU (2 for ©, etc.) → EIC (0 for accept) → CE → AU → staff → online publication → in print.

The author has 4 or 8 weeks for a revision (e.g., R1) depending on whether the revision is minor or not. The associate editor may seek further reviews and revisions if necessary. If the required revision is very minor, the AE may recommend acceptance to the EIC without seeking a revision because the authors will have an opportunity for some minor revisions after the tentative acceptance. The time from submission to first decision is approximately 8 weeks and that from acceptance to online publication is approximately 2.5 months.

Reviewing

Reviewers provide expert opinions on whether a technical submission is acceptable for publication. The responsibilities of reviewers include judging the importance and relevance of the work to subsurface interpretation; critiquing technical merit and novelty; assessing completeness of method descriptions, ensuring presentation clarity, and verifying compliance with the editorial policy.

The reviewers' constructive feedback helps authors revise the presentation of their current work and adjust the directions of their future work. These comments often are appropriate:

  • "This paragraph is confusing."
  • "Modeling would help identify the event."
  • "Stating 'use of proprietary technology' is insufficient for describing this key step of your methodology."
  • "Undefined symbol."
  • "Unsupported claim."

Whenever possible, reviewers should suggest alternatives for the authors to consider, e.g., "Expression 1/2π is ambiguous. Consider (1/2)π or 1/(2π)." Blunt and derogatory statements may insult and discourage an author. Consider rephrasing strong review assertions in the form of polite queries that would prompt authors to reexamine the points in question. Consider annotating the manuscripts for corrections, comments, and suggestions.

The reviewers' decision recommendation options are "accept," "revise," or "reject," reflecting the reviewers' answer to the following question: "Would the interpretation community be better served if the paper were published?" A paper should not be rejected solely because the reviewer does not agree with an author's conclusions or interpretations. Instead, the reviewer should make specific improvement suggestions, list objections, and ask the author to address them in the revision. Use the "revise" option if the manuscript can become acceptable after some revisions, ranging from minor corrections to major rewriting. The designation of "minor" or "moderate" for a revision is important only in the sense that it is used to determine the time (4 weeks for "minor" and 8 weeks for "moderate") to be given to authors to complete the revision. Whether the actual revision is minor or moderate depends on both the review suggestions and the author's resources.

Keeping the manuscripts moving

Interpretation asks authors, reviewers, and editors to take manuscript actions at the earliest opportunities, without waiting for the due dates. Because Interpretation relies on volunteers to handle the manuscripts, it cannot guarantee the stated timelines. In any particular week, the authors, reviewers, and editors may not be available to handle a manuscript that arrives without warning. However, to ensure efficiency, Interpretation does actively enforce the deadlines, with very limited flexibility.
The author's revision deadline is strictly applied. The online system is programmed to withdraw a manuscript the day its revision is overdue. See below for the restrictive policy on granting limited revision extensions (prior to due date) and for authors' option after the withdrawal.
The reviewer's deadline is 3 weeks from the date of agreement to review. A nonperforming reviewer damages the journal in two ways: inadequate feedback for authors and loss of the early opportunity for the editor to invite other reviewers. The editors are urged to avoid reviewers whose online records indicate habitual nonperformance.
The editor is responsible for timely review of a manuscript. Here are the expectations:

  • Although a minimum of 2 reviews are required for an editorial decision, the editor should assign 3 or more reviewers to give the author more feedback and to reduce the chance of delay by nonperforming reviewers.
  • The editor should not wait for an overdue reviewer unless the editor assigns new backup reviewers. This avoids indefinite waiting for nonperforming reviewers.
  • Although the editor has 2 weeks to make an editorial decision after the reviews are in, the editors should render a decision typically in a few days because the manuscript has been with the editor for many weeks.

The editor can request a reprieve if temporarily overloaded with editorial or other commitments. The editor should notify the staff and discuss with EIC if unreachable for more than a few days. Papers due for editorial actions may be redistributed to other editors or guest editors to avoid undue delay. The small Interpretation board cannot accommodate an editor's prolonged absence or lack of priority for editorial responsibilities.

The case for firm processing deadlines with limited extensions

Interpretation adopts a processing schedule similar, but not identical to, the one in use by Geophysics since 2005. The timelines and due dates were results of tests, compromises, and optimizations. The initial online manuscript-processing data of Geophysics showed that when the deadlines were "soft" with liberal extensions for "extenuating circumstances," the review system was clogged with delayed papers. Some editors kept papers for many months without assigning reviewers. Some authors resubmitted papers to other journals without informing Geophysics, and some authors asked for a year of extension for revisions and then another year. Although adequate time is needed for a high-quality job, unlimited accommodation is a slippery slope and encourages procrastination. The quality of the journal cannot be separated from its efficiency. Tardiness reduces the impact of the journal with stale content. Authors with novel approaches may avoid the journal if it has a reputation of long turnarounds.

See related links:
TLE Mar 2006, "Revitalizing Geophysics" (PDF)
TLE Oct 2006, Geophysics: Significant time reduction from submission to publication" (PDF)

Author revision-time extension policy

The submission date of a manuscript should adequately reflect the time before which the intellectual content of the paper has been created. Revisions are not for papers that contain fundamental technical flaws that would require substantial new technical work and additional project time. The time allowance for a (possibly major) revision is for the authors to rework their presentation with existing technical materials. In some extenuating circumstances, we may extend, by a very limited amount, the time allowance for an author to submit a revision or the final draft before acceptance. Authors should direct their request for extension to the tracking staff. The tracking staff, not the editors, grants and modifies deadlines according to the following rules:

  • Extensions should not be granted if the deadline has passed. A noncredible deadline does not need extension.
  • Typical extensions should be for a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the degree of hardship.
  • The maximum cumulative extensions cannot exceed five weeks per manuscript.

It is impractical to consistently determine whether the lack of revision time is due to truly extenuating circumstances or simply to procrastination. If an author misses a deadline, he can alert the SEG staff when submitting the revision. The staff then will contact the associate editor so previous reviews might be accounted for, although we cannot guarantee that they will be.

So what is the point of withdrawing an overdue paper and then allowing authors to resubmit it as a new manuscript and trying to account for previous reviews? Withdrawing overdue papers automatically prevents the system from being clogged by manuscripts that might have been given up by the authors. The awareness of firm deadlines and the inconvenience of missing them reduce procrastination and greatly reduce the number of missed deadlines. [Geophysics received two author complaints in 2005–2007 for such withdrawals. Tracking data showed only a handful of such withdraws for some one thousand revision submissions.] Editorial assistance for continuity of review for resubmitted overdue papers is hopefully a reasonable extra effort by the authors, editors, and staff to improve the overall efficiency of the journal.