Executive Summary

I. Yucel Akkutlu, Texas A&M University

Peer-Review Process and Selection of SPE Journal Articles

I wrote a great deal during the next ten [early] years, but very little of any importance; there are not more than four or five papers which I can still remember with some satisfaction.

— G.H. Hardy, “A Mathematicians Apology,” 1940


In February 2014, SPE Journal moves to an exclusively digital format. This means that there will no longer be a printed version landing in your mailbox and that the hardcopy you are holding in your hands as you read these lines is the last of its kind. Subscribers who need a printed copy of the journal will have the ability to order it individually through the print-on-demand option.

The decision to move to digital and online is not solely a cost-savings issue or an environmental concern. With the dramatic uptake of tablet devices and digital databases such as OnePetro, we have been experiencing an overall shift in scholarly research and subscriptions to online publications, and it is the Society's hope to position the journal for the digital present and future of scholarly publishing.

The new online journal sites will be optimized for tablets and smartphones, enabling you to read your journal on the device of your preference. In addition, SPE will be launching a tablet application that will allow you to read your journal offline anytime, anywhere. The digital, mobile-friendly delivery options reinforce SPE's commitment to publishing high-quality, peer-reviewed journals as part of their core mission to collect and disseminate technical knowledge throughout the industry.

Correspondingly, it was nearly a year ago when I began my tenure as the executive editor of the SPE Journal. Since then, I have experienced the online-review process of roughly three hundred articles--or papers as we, the academicians, count them--first hand, of which only 23% were accepted for publication. None of these accepted articles were published during my tenure in the form in which they had been initially submitted. Instead, each was subject to a review process--at times long and tedious--through which the article was evaluated by several experts in the focused area. This process often led to important modifications in the original manuscript, as the editors looked for an answer to the important question of whether or not the submitted work was publishable.

I decided to dedicate this executive summary to a discussion of the peer-review process and the selection of articles for publication, not only for the benefit of young writers and reviewers, but also so authors could learn in depth how their articles have been evaluated during the review process. It is my hope that I will have the opportunity to underline the important criteria that makes a manuscript a good candidate for publication in the SPE Journal.

Scope of the Journal. First off, the scope of the journal matters! SPE Journal includes fundamental research papers on all aspects of engineering for oil and gas exploration and production, covering the theories and emerging concepts that will become the new technologies of tomorrow. As the executive editor, one of the basic questions that I need to answer to the best of my abilities is whether the submitted manuscript falls within the scope of the journal. The key element I look for is the fundamental research aspect of the manuscript. Hence, it really does not matter whether the submitted work is in the areas of drilling, production, or reservoir as long as the technical content honors the scope. For example, a case history of a field could not be publishable in SPE Journal if the manuscript provided the practical use of an existing technology; however, the same case history would be publishable and read with great interest by the majority, if the manuscript provided a new practical use of the existing technology. Recent issues of SPE Journal have included―but have not been limited to―articles covering reservoir characterization, multiphase flow, drilling dynamics, hydraulic fracturing in unconventional reservoirs, well deliverability, enhanced oil recovery, numerical simulation of wellbore and reservoir phenomena, and carbon dioxide sequestration. In this issue, I have selected articles on the automated optimization of well placement, on well completion and production, on simulation technologies, and on the air- and steam-injection processes of thermal recovery.

Originality and Significance. Next, concerns of originality and significance are considered. Has this manuscript, or a similar one, been published previously in a periodical by these or other authors? (Note that a manuscript that has been made available to SPE members through conference proceedings is not considered a publication because it has not yet been subject to a rigorous peer-review process; hence, the manuscript will be considered an original work even though it was presented at a conference a few years ago.) Until recently, the originality check was performed manually by the editors and reviewers; nowadays, it is routinely performed using sophisticated authentication software at the beginning of the review process.

Does the manuscript have any important contribution in its field such that it adds to the overall body of literature? The level of contribution is measured and its significance judged by the expert reviewers. Indeed, a manuscript that is not original and does not have a significant contribution is deemed to be an automatic decline.

Technical Content. The manuscript should have a clearly-defined objective. It should also include an experimental work and/or a theoretical (analytical, numerical) technique to reach to that objective. Is the overall approach appropriate and sound? Does it contain sufficient data or explanation of the experiment and the technique to allow experts in the field to replicate the presented results? Is the interpretation of the results--either in the form of tabulated data or a series of graphs--and the subsequent discussion sound? Is the quality of the tables and figures adequate to support the technical content? The discussion should avoid undue speculations about the significance of the results. Finally, has the work achieved its objective and does the presented material support the conclusion?

The technical content is clearly the key area of the review process, and it is my opinion that we (the authors, the reviewers, and the editors) spend most of the review time and effort of a manuscript on identifying and fixing the issues related to this key area. These issues typically appear during the review process as reviewer comments that need to be addressed by the authors. However, they might be in the form of an additional experimental and numerical task that can be finished in a suitable timeframe. The expert reviewer would use the option of declining the manuscript if long time is required to fix a particular issue in technical content. It is my experience that addressing these issues eventually leads to important modifications in the manuscript.

Ease of Understanding. It is not unlikely that a manuscript, which has the scope and delivers the technical content, could be perceived by the expert reviewers as difficult to read and understand. Perhaps, the writing is unclear. It may be that the title does not clearly reflect the technical content, or that the summary does not adequately inform the reader of the objective and the key content of the work. Is the organization of the paper logical and its length reasonable? Brevity in writing is the best insurance for its perusal. Is the reference list complete and up to date? Are the commercial references excessive or limited to support the technical content? Generally, the latter means a single mention of the trademarked name of the product, with further references being generic.

Manuscripts having subject matter outside of the scope of the journal or lacking in originality and significance, or having very poorly written technical content are, for the most part, automatically declined by the editors. If not, they go through the review process. Each reviewer makes a recommendation for publication. Close to 1,000 such reviews have been submitted for the SPE Journal by more than 500 expert reviewers throughout the year. The recommendation of a reviewer could be to (1) publish with minor revisions in technical content and ease of understanding; (2) publish with minor revisions in technical content and major revisions in ease of understanding; and (3) decline to publish with major inadequacies in originality, significance, and/or technical content.

TABLE 1--SUMMARY OF PERFORMANCE STATISTICS FOR THE SPE JOURNAL, 1 JULY 2012–30 JUNE 2013
Acceptance rate 23.4%
Papers submitted for review (original papers) 294
Number of reviews submitted 927
Number of reviewers 513
Number of manuscripts accepted for publication 110


Nearly 75% of the submitted manuscripts are written by scientists and engineers at a university and/or working for the government. 14% belongs to the major oil companies and service companies. The rest of the submissions originate from independent oil companies, national oil companies, consultants, and others. It is a continuously growing and global body of expert reviewers and associate editors that the SPE Journal constantly relies on for the selection of articles. I would like to thank the authors, the reviewers, and the editors for their continued participation and support.