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Publication timeframes at PLOS ONE – and our plans to improve them

PLOS ONE is a large journal. A very, very, very large journal. We receive around 100 submissions each day, and publish more than a thousand papers a month across 200+ disciplines. This work is supported by a board of nearly 10,000 Academic Editors and tens of thousands of peer reviewers. They work alongside the journal’s editorial staff to ensure that everything we publish meets our publication criteria, and that we publish all rigorous research and research methodology that contribute to academic knowledge.

But PLOS ONE’s large size leads to a specific set of challenges. Chief among these is how we adapt to address changes in submission volume. During the past two years, we’ve been fortunate to receive a sustained high volume of submissions from researchers who wanted to publish with us. However, this influx of submissions has outstripped the capacity of our board – many of whom are undoubtedly exhausted from two years of pandemic-related stress – and has led to lengthening timeframes for review and publication.

I want to openly acknowledge that these longer timeframes do not reflect the standard of service that we aim to provide researchers. We exist solely to serve the needs of the research community, and know how important timing can be to our community. To all authors who have been disappointed in their experience with PLOS ONE: I’m sorry. We can, and we will, do better.

We are addressing this in four ways:

Editorial Board Audit

PLOS’ Editorial Board Services team has conducted an audit of the editorial board and has been recruiting new Academic Editors in subject areas that have been particularly impacted by high submission volumes. We’ve recently recruited more than 600 new Academic Editors, and plan to recruit several hundred more by the end of the year. This recruitment drive will not only help us close gaps in board coverage, but will also ensure that the Academic Editors on our board receive a sustainable number of submissions to handle. 

Workflow Review

We are reviewing our workflows to ensure that they are as efficient as possible. Saving a couple of minutes of handling time per manuscript might not seem like a major achievement in isolation, but given the journal’s size this rapidly multiplies into significant time savings, which benefits authors and Academic Editors. 

Improving Contributor Correspondence

We are also reviewing our contributor correspondence infrastructure to ensure that author queries are received by appropriate journal staff who can provide the most helpful responses, faster. 

Better Matching of New Submissions

Finally, we’re trialing an improved algorithm that matches new submissions to potential Academic Editors to ensure that all papers submitted to the journal are picked up by an Academic Editor as soon as possible. Better matching also allows the journal staff who manage this process to focus on supporting our Academic Editors in other ways – for example, helping resolve questions about the review process, or ensuring that new Academic Editors have all of the tools and training that they need to review a manuscript. This in turn helps ensure that authors, reviewers and Academic Editors all receive excellent service from PLOS ONE

With these changes in place, authors should soon start noticing an improvement in review and publication times. 

It has been immensely gratifying to see so many papers submitted to PLOS ONE by authors who value Open Science. We will continue improving our processes to ensure that we provide the rapid, robust review and publication of all rigorous research and research methods that PLOS ONE has become renowned for. I look forward to sharing news of our progress with our community. 

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