Executive Summary

Behrooz Fattahi, Aera Energy
Cosan Ayan, Schlumberger

In my Executive Summary for the February 2008 issue, I promised that with all the changes to the reservoir engineering side of the journal that were either implemented or were underway, substantial improvement in the peer-review process would appear on the horizon. In this issue, I want to report on an important key performance indicator (KPI) that I have been monitoring. However, before I discuss this KPI, let me briefly explain the steps in the total peer review process for the journal’s reservoir engineering side.

There are generally four distinct periods in the life cycle of a paper moving through the reservoir engineering peer-review process. These periods are:

  1. Submittal to first decision: This period starts with the author(s) submitting the paper to the journal for peer review. The paper is first checked by SPE staff for completeness of submittal documents, and then is routed to the Executive Editor (EE) for distribution to Associate Editors (AE). The EE may initially decline the paper for further processing for a variety of reasons. If the paper is accepted for review, it is then sent to an AE depending on the subject. The AE may also initially decline the paper or distribute it to at least three Technical Editors (TEs) for peer review. After the review results and recommendations are back from the TEs to the AE and on to the EE, a letter detailing the recommendation is sent to author(s). Our goal is to reduce this period to 16 weeks on the average.
  2. Revision by author(s): Depending on the nature of the recommendation, this period can range from a few days to several weeks, but I have personally received revisions up to 5 years after the revise and resubmit recommendation. However, we recommend that revisions be made within 60 days. In some cases, we grant a short extension.
  3. Review of revisions: Once revision recommendations are returned to the EE, the revised manuscript is usually sent back to the team that performed the original peer review to see if adequate revisions have been made. If the paper is acceptable for publication, the EE sends his/her recommendation to journal publication staff. This part of the process is now improving in speed and I will report on it as soon as I have sufficient data.
  4. Prepublication: This last period in the life cycle of a paper is for the prepublication preparation (i.e., editing and graphics) as well as for the ready paper to be scheduled for publication in a future issue. To reduce the backlog and keep up with the increased number of incoming papers, we have increased the number of papers printed in each issue.

While all papers go through the first period, some may or may not flow through the other periods in the review cycle, depending on the nature of the decision. In each period, a different group of people are involved in moving the paper through the cycle. In the first and the third period, the members of the peer-review committee are responsible for processing papers. In the second period, authors have the responsibility of implementing the requested revisions. Finally, the SPE publication staff members are accountable for the fourth period. The peer-review process is a handoff process involving several hundred papers, authors, and volunteer technical reviewers as well as a small number of SPE staff. And, it is a complicated process to manage because people, deadlines, priorities, and varied technical opinions constantly clash. A simplified view of the total process is shown in Fig. 1.

The reservoir-engineering-side KPI that I am discussing in this issue indicates that we significantly improving toward achieving our goal for Period 1. This measure, which is a lagging indicator, shows the continuing decline in the number of papers that are a year or more old, as well as those that are older than our new goal of 16 weeks (Fig. 2). The trend is even more significant in view of the constantly aging population of all the papers in the system. The chart clearly shows not only a decline in aged papers, but also that the peer-review team is processing incoming papers at a faster rate so that they never enter the aged category.

Commitment, accountability and discipline are the needed ingredients for success in our process. The good news is that the entire team of TEs, AEs, and the SPE staff involved in the peer review process are all energized to "MAKE IT HAPPEN."While we are busy improving the counts, we also have to be quite sensitive to enhancing the quality of the reviews and the journal. We have taken steps in this direction as well. I have in the past informed you that we now request that the authors submit a short review of their own papers and we are requiring a minimum of three reviews per paper, which is an increase from the previously-required two reviews. In addition to these steps, I have now requested a team of four academics and a team four industry members to evaluate our journal’s current ranking and make recommendations as needed.