How long do you take to review a research paper?

By Grant Jacobs 27/09/2013 7

Aside from being of interest to other researchers, answers to this might illustrate to non-scientists the effort peer review takes.

Peer review is part of what keeps standards high in science.

Scientific papers are sent out from the journals to peer-reviewers – other scientists who volunteer their time to critique the paper and offer their judgements on it to the editor. Usually the final call on accepting the paper with or without revisions (asked for or suggested by the peer reviewers) rests with the editors.

On twitter today, Rebecca Priestley asked: “Academics – how long do you usually spend peer-reviewing a journal article?”

Good question. How long do people typically take to review a paper?

How long do you take? If you review research papers as part of your time, let us know in the comments below. It’d be interesting to see how much time people typically put in.

It’s a case of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ but this effort is also time away from or over-and-above research and teaching.

How much of researchers’ time (in total) is tied up reviewing other’s work? How much does it tot up to over a year? So, let me add an additional question: how many papers do you typically review each week? (Or month, as the case may be.)

It’s complicated that some journals have different peer-review requirements; comments there welcome too.

So – how long do you take to peer-review papers?


This is not about peer review of grant applications, another topic again. I’m also staying away from the wider topic of alternatives to current peer-review schemes. As interesting as that topic is, I fear it’ll result in people not answering the question posed here through getting side-tracked!

Other articles on Code for life:

Should all research papers have a ‘Limitations’ section?

Find a home for your research paper, authors, related papers – ask Jane

Outreach sections for research papers?

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

7 Responses to “How long do you take to review a research paper?”

  • It depends a LOT on the paper, the better the paper is and the closer to my field it is, the faster I am. That said, even in my field, from a really good lab, if it is a big paper (eg Plant Cell) it will still take a while.
    So say 2 to 4 hours uninterrupted to properly read the paper and go through the figures in detail, including supplementary data. Maybe an hour to search literature around the paper, if needed, and 1 to 2 hours to write the response.
    So about a full day of my time. But I’ve had easy papers that have taken maybe 2-3 hours total and hard ones that have taken a couple of days to get to grips with and write a good response.

  • A few people responded to my tweet, and it seemed that about half a day was the typical response, but my followers are probably biased towards history of science. I guess it depends what field you’re in! History of science doesn’t usually demand the scritinising of data and analysis of data that a science paper might. Today I spent a good half-day writing my peer review after being reminded my deadline was yesterday :-). This is after reading the paper a couple of times earlier and thinking about it in the interim. Today’s was the third, and most focused, read. I was worried that I was spending too long on it (so many demands on time in this job) so good to know that others spend as long as or longer than me.

  • Probably about half a day, perhaps a little more, is about right. I typically read the paper, making a few scribbles on the way. Then leave it a day or two while I churn it over in my mind. Then I’ll read it again compiling a list of more detailled comments, then finally prepare the report. Usually, there will be a little bit of time checking out other references. It has to be a really poor paper or a very well presented short paper to do in less time. There have been a few papers that took two or three days of quite hard work. These have tended to be more important and a few pages longer than average.

    You might be interested – in my experience reviewers are very constructive. Every paper I’ve published has benefitted from comments and suggestions from 2 or 3 anonymous reviewers.

  • I’m an undergrad reviewing undergrad articles (in the Physical Sciences) and I review about 2 articles per month. It takes me about 1-2 hours to read initially, 1-2 hours spent discussing it with my advisor and 2-3 hours spent doing a little background research and formulating the review.

    This is normally done over a period of 2-3 days as time allows.

  • Typically three hours for a paper with potential. Shorter if it is very poorly done or very well done.
    Somewhere on sciblogs was a suggestion that we agree to referee three papers for every one we publish … seems fair to me.

  • Ewen Birney was saying on twitter that he’d just “Done a 3.5 hour review of a paper, of which I think 75% of “reviewing time” was in the Supplement. I hope the authors appreciate it. (hmmm)”

    (Not in reply to this post, just an open rumination on his part.)

    His point about Supplementary material is a good one I think. They can be quite substantial, e.g. in large-scale ‘survey’ type work in the genomic area.

    In hindsight I ought to have asked if reviewing the Supplementary material is a factor for people.

  • As an editor, I’ve always been grateful for the efforts scientists make in providing quality reviews, but I’ve gained the impression that a lot of reviewing is done outside “normal” working hours.

    I remember one review that hit my computer at 11:45 one 25 December with the comment “Now I’ve finished this I can join the family for Christmas.”

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