JMIR's fast-track package consists of two components:
- a) we make an initial editorial decision within (currently) 3 weeks after submission
- b) after acceptance, we publish the paper within 4 weeks
As we made part of the the source code available for OJS, some other journals have started to adopt similar policies, although the details of their policies vary widely.
We see several advantages of this model. First, authors often have deadlines to meet, such as a grant submission deadlines, end-of-grant deadlines (by which grant money needs to be spent), deadlines for promotion & tenure applications, PhD defense deadlines, etc. From our authors who have used the FT option we know that the FT track is widely appreciated, and almost 25% of all authors make use of it. Guaranteeing a rapid decision by the journal is a considerable advantage over the current system, where authors are subjected to unpredictable journal turnaround times.
Secondly, even for authors not in hurry or with insufficient funds who are not opting for the FT, the FT revenue stream helps to keep other fees down. All authors pay a lower Article Processing Fee than what we would have to charge without the FT option.
- all reviewers have the same instructions, reminders and turn-around times (2 weeks) for all manuscripts - fast-tracked or not
- reviewers are blinded, i.e. do not know whether or not a manuscript is fast-tracked
- on the decision page, where editors see the reviewer comments and make a decision, the editor also does not see if a manuscript has been fast-tracked or not
- fast-tracking at the decision-making level (promise a) is achieved by sending aggressive email reminders to the editor to assign more reviewers. Editors are asked to make sure that within the first week of submission, at least 2-3 reviewers have agreed to review the paper, so to achieve a rapid decision editors spend more time monitoring reviewer responses and assigning more reviewers if needed.
- Fast-tracking works (line 1.3). Fast-tracked articles are on average (median) published over 100 days earlier than non-fast-tracked articles (median time from submission to publication for FT articles 182 days, non-FT: 303 days). Note that these times still may appear long, but these figures include the time authors need to revise their manuscripts (which is on average 3 months per revision)
- No evidence for lighter peer-review of fast-tracked articles (line 4.3a): While cynics have speculated that money-greedy publishers/editors may take shortcuts and favor fast-tracked articles and make decisions in the absence of a sufficient number of reviews, the data at JMIR speak a different language. In the past 4 years or so we sent a total of 519 manuscripts for peer-review, with FT articles receiving MORE peer-reviews (1.96 reviews per article) than non-FTed articles (1.88 reviews). Come to think of it, this is not so surprising, because editors work harder to assign a sufficient number of reviewers, assigning 5.29 (FT) versus 4.50 (non-FT) reviewers to each submission (line 4.1)
- No evidence for preferential treatment of fast-tracked articles (line 3.1): There is also no evidence for an editorial bias - the acceptance rate of articles which have been sent out for peer-review are virtually the same for both tracks: 63% (FT) versus 61% (non-FT).
- FT articles are not rated better by reviewers (line 4.7): If reviewer recommendations (which are made on a scale of A-E) are converted to a numerical scale 1-5, then the mean reviewer recommendation of FTed articles is 2.8 - exactly the same as "normal" articles (it should be stressed that reviewers are blinded regarding the FT status).
- FT articles are more often sent out for peer-review (line 2): Articles which are not within the scope of the journal are not sent out for peer-review - 85.9% of FT articles and 72.3% of nFT articles were sent out for peer-review, indicating a higher proportion of articles which are "out of scope" among the "normal" submissions. Again, it is probably not surprising that FT'ed articles are more often within scope (if someone pays a FT fee he is more likely to make sure that the manuscript is within the scope of the journal, often through pre-submission inquiries). Also, at JMIR it is possible to request fast-tracking of an article after acceptance (to speed up the production process), which also biases these numbers (obviously, all accepted manuscripts were peer-reviewed). Some authors may also wait until the "within scope" decision has been made and peer-review has started before they fast-track the paper.
- The quality of the peer-reviewers is the same (line 4.8a): After peer-review has been completed, the editor may rate the quality of the review on a 5-point scale. There are no differences here: The mean rating is 4.19 for FT'ed article reviews, and 4.10 for non-FTed. We recently also started to ask authors to rate the quality of reviews, but with only 4 ratings in the FT track the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions at this time.