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!

30 comments:

  1. What an excellent approach! Thanks for posting this. These types of practical tips are extremely valuable.

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  2. I like the "no-drama" approach in your post! Reading reviewer feedback can be frustrating, but I agree that our responses must be thorough and collegial. I've also found that I learn from even the most biting reviewer statements.

    I would add that you often get contradictory feedback from reviewers. That's tricky!

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  3. How long does the whole process generally take?

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  4. @Ann: Yes, contradictory feedback can be tricky. This method allows you to see how it is contradictory... responding to it is another ball game! The good news is you can pick a side and stick to it!

    @Eve: These days, it usually takes me about 3 to 4 weeks, if I work on it consistently 2 hours a day. I am pretty sure it used to take longer, but I didn't keep track of how long.

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  5. This is an incredibly helpful post! As someone who likes to tackle things in an organized way, I'd like to think that I would have come up with exactly the same process if you hadn't done it for me so brilliantly.

    One question I hoped you might answer: how do you format your response to the editor when you have the same or similar comments from more than one reviewer? I know that you organized them together in your Excel spreadsheet, but when you wrote it up for the editor, did you keep the format that way, or did you respond to each reviewer's comments separately? I would appreciate your advice!

    Thanks for any feedback you might offer!

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  7. This is my first time tackling revisions for a peer-reviewed journal manuscript and all I have to say is thank you! this post is extremely helpful and I also very much appreciate your generosity in sharing your tips so that the rest of us can learn to be just as proficient. Keep the posts coming!

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  8. How do you respond to contradictory comments? Are you going to write a separate blog post on that?

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  9. As a junior social scientist almost fresh out of the PhD in a different field (a cousin field to sociology I'd say:) I found this approach enormously helpful. In fact, this is how I approached my first r&r and now it's a forthcoming. Thank you so much!

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  10. Tanya, great stuff. You are such a vibrant personality.
    Do read the intro in red print in my website. Also, scroll to almost the end, and watch the video clip, Krugar Park', about getting caught between a rock and a hard place.
    - Ivan
    www.guidepost21.blogspot.com

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  11. thank alot for sharing your experiences, but how do you offer the structure of letter to editors?

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    1. I offer a point-by-point description of all of the changes I made.

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  12. Thank you so much for your great post. I learn a lot from it.

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  13. This is a great blog post, thanks for all the great advice!

    Two questions, out of the 5 R&Rs that you have received, how many were accepted after you resubmitted? Were top journals likely to accept after resubmission?

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    1. Every single one of my R&R's was accepted after resubmission - in top journals and not-so-top.

      Except in one case, where it was a special issue. But, then, the editor turned around and decided to have two special issues, so he ended up accepting it.

      I have two more R&Rs now, so I hope my luck continues...

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  14. Thanks for this Tanya. I got great intellectual training in grad school, but nobody ever taught me how to do this kind of thing....

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  15. A quick question to above: How often do editors grant extensions post delay in contacting them with updated manuscript? It's been a year since I missed the deadline...would the editor be open to considering an author request for extension in submitting a revised version?

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  16. Tanya,

    This article and many others have been of huge benefit here in Brasil as I pursue research with a Fulbright. While I love living here for the third time, it's easy to get academically isolated. Question: in corralling the changes made in the letter to the editor, is it appropriate or inappropriate (beneficial or not) to address any change not made and give supporting reasons? Bravo, by the way, for your productive academic path along with kids and your travels with them! I am now a single mom and had my son, now six, right as I started my Ph.D. He will be spending part of my Brasil time with me. Your blog is encouraging on multiple fronts.

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    1. Yes. You should address the changes you made and those you did not - as you should explain why you didn't make specific changes.

      Enjoy Brazil.

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  17. Many thanks, Tanya, for this and the other relevant, encouraging articles. Do you recommend, when sending the letter to the editor corralling changes, that we also address any change not made with reasons? I am especially encouraged by your academic success while raising kids. I'm here in Brasil for the third time, this time on a Fulbright research grant, and am a single mom. My son, six, will be joining me for part of the time.

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  18. Thank u for the valuable sharing ..from Jakarta

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  19. Thank u for the advices ^^ Great blog! Greetings from Portugal!

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  20. Great article...very much helpful for PhDs ..thanks Tanya!

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  21. Thanks for your pragmatic and sensible approach to this topic. Great advice!

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  22. Thanks for a great blog. I used your approach and my first article was accepted after making one set of revisions in response to their suggestions. Quick question: the editor is asking for my professional affiliations for the title page. I am working as a school teacher now and am not studying or working at a university. What do I list for professional affiliation?

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    1. Congrats! You can either use "Independent Scholar" or the name of the school you work at.

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  23. Excellent step-by-step, no drama approach. I just submitted revisions and should have read this post first! I had three reviewers and seven pages of comments. It was hard to wade through and I ended up skipping many of the concerns of a certain type and made a blanket statement rather than compiling a full point-by-point. I hope that was ok, but I do see your point about a full and thorough response. Live and learn! (still crossing my fingers) Thank you!

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  24. Wow, this extremely helpful. Thank you!

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  25. Wow. I have to say this article helped me a lot!! I was discouraged after receiving a tons of comments. Thank you!

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