Context: Some journals routinely query potential referees before sending manuscripts ("askfirst"), whereas others just send manuscripts and allow referees to opt out ("justsend"). It is not known which protocol results in more completed reviews or shorter review time.
Methods: Trial to assess proportion of referee turndowns and length of review process, conducted at editorial office of Obstetrics & Gynecology and involving 283 consecutive qualifying manuscripts. For each, a referee was randomly assigned to askfirst (manuscript sent only after affirmative response within 3 days) and another to justsend (manuscript sent with request to review; could opt out).
Results: Only 64% of askfirst referees assented initially (15% declined [vs 8% for justsend, P =.008] and 21% failed to respond within 3 working days, necessitating a replacement). But once manuscript was mailed, mean time to file a review was significantly shorter for askfirst (21.0 vs 25.0 days, P<.001); thus, overall time to receipt of review did not differ significantly (24.7 vs 25.9 days, P =.19), nor did review quality (P =.39).
Conclusion: Askfirst led to a higher rate of referee turndown than did justsend, but assenting askfirst referees completed reviews faster. The overall time for the review process did not differ between the 2 protocols.