Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Respond to a “Revise and Resubmit” from an Academic Journal: Ten Steps to a Successful Revision

When I submit an article to a top journal, often the best possible outcome I can hope for is that the editors will invite me to respond to the reviewers’ comments and resubmit the article. At this point, I have successfully completed five requests to revise extensively and resubmit. Over time, I have developed a straightforward approach to these requests.

In this blog post, I will describe my method in ten easy-to-follow steps.

revising

Step One: Read the Letter.

Read the letter from the editor carefully and make sure you indeed have a request for a revise and resubmit. Other possible responses from the editor include: 1) Reject without an invitation to re-submit; 2) Conditional acceptance, where you are asked to make minor changes; and 3) Outright acceptance, where changes are not required, but might be suggested. If you are unsure, you may make an inquiry to the editor or ask a more experienced colleague to read the letter for you.

Step Two: Create an Excel File to List the Revisions.

Create an Excel file with four columns in which to put the suggestions for revisions. I open a blank Excel file, and create four columns. I label the columns as follows: “Reviewer”; “Suggestions”; “Response”; “Done?”.If you widen the columns and wrap the text, that makes it much more readable, especially for the middle two columns.

Step Three: Extract the suggestions from the reviewers' and editors' letters.

Read the reviews to extract the suggestions for revision and put the suggestions in the Excel file. This step requires the painful and painstaking process of closely reading the reviews and extracting all of the useful suggestions. On some occasions, the reviews can contain useful information, but not relay the information in a congenial fashion. The beauty of this step is that you can rewrite the suggestions and not have to look at the mean-spirited reviews again. For example, the reviewer might write: “One major problem with this article is that the research methods are suspect.” You can re-write this as: “Provide a more accurate and complete discussion of the data collection.” Be sure to label each suggestion according to where it comes from: Reviewer One, Two, or Three, or the editor.

Step Four: Re-arrange the suggestions for revision in a logical fashion.

Oftentimes, two reviewers will both mention in different ways that you need to build up the conceptual framework or the literature review. If you group all of the literature review suggestions together, it will be easier to tackle the revision systematically. Be sure you have labeled each suggestion according to where it came from, in order to facilitate this process. Organizing all of the suggestions for the Introduction, the Literature Review, the data analysis, etc., will make it easier to respond to the reviews.

Step Five: Decide how you will respond to all of the suggestions.

If the suggestion is to more clearly define the difference between “transnational” and “transborder,” then you can write: “Add one paragraph to the conceptual framework that clearly explains the difference between transnational and transborder, and why this distinction is useful.” Be sure that the suggestions you lay out for yourself make it clear what the next step is.

Note: You must respond to all of the suggestions. There may be some suggestions that you disagree with. This is fine, but you have to make a conscious decision not to respond to any particular suggestion. For example, the reviewer might suggest that you return to the archive to explore more biographical features of a certain person. You can respond that this step is not necessary for your argument. Place all of your instructions to yourself for how you will respond in the third column.

Step Six: Tackle your revision plan, step by step.

Now that you have made a clear plan for revision by outlining all of the reviewers’ suggestions and have decided how you will respond, you can tackle the revisions one by one. If you feel intimidated, start with the easiest ones. Usually, the easy ones will be something along the lines of: “Find and add a quote from Diana’s interview that elucidates how subjects talk about discrimination.” Even easier: “Add citation from Stephens (2009) about transnationalism from below.”

Step Seven: Use your Excel file to write the memo to the editor.

You should not send the editor your Excel file. Instead, you can use your Excel file to write a neat, comprehensive, and well-formatted response memo to the editor. Here is an example from a memo to the editor:

Reviewer One suggested that I engage the literature at a deeper level to get the most out of the data. I have included a more in-depth analysis of transnationalism into my data analysis section.

Step Eight: Double-check

Go back to the original reviews, and double-check to make sure that you have not missed anything. Go through each critique, and double-check your memo to the editor to make sure you have addressed each critique and have explained how you have responded to the editor.

Step Nine: Do a final read-over.

Read over your article to make sure that you have maintained the flow and argument of your paper even after having made the revisions. Read it without thinking about the reviews, but imagine a reader who is unaware of your original article or of the letter from the reviewers, as that reader is now your intended audience.

Step Ten: Re-submit!

Send the revised article and the revision memo back to the journal editor!