I received a tweet asking whether I had written anything about managing manuscript edits. I have a class available that helps with the emotional aspects of that process, and leads you through the process of making decisions (Dealing with Criticism, recording available for members of the Academic Writing Studio ). However, you still need to figure out how to manage the work involved in revising the manuscript once you’ve made those decision. And you’ll need to write a letter to the editor when you resubmit. [UPDATE: I have now published a Short Guide, Peer Review, which incorporates and expands the information included in this and related posts.]
When you resubmit your article, you need to communicate how you dealt with the reviewer comments. These comments may only be seen by the editor or they may be sent to the reviewers (practice varies amongst journals). Here is what you are aiming for:
— Dr Deborah Netolicky (@debsnet) April 28, 2017
It is helpful to have a process for managing your edits that makes writing this letter as straightforward as possible. Matthew Paterson, who shared his process for managing edits, tells us how he uses the table he created to manage the edits in his communication with the editor.
The other main advantage is that it [the table] shows the editor that you have taken the responses seriously, and you make explicit when and why you have not dealt with any specific responses.
Here is Matthew’s sample letter:
Dear [editor’s name]
We thank you for the opportunity to revise our paper [title] for publication in [journal]. Please find attached a revised version of the paper. We hope you find the revisions thorough and acceptable. Below is a summary as to how we’ve responded to the various comments by the reviewers. (this letter is also attached – the word document may be easier to read).
He reproduces his table.
If you have modified the suggested format, you’ll need to do a bit more work before sharing yours.
Option 1: Share the 2-column version of the table
Create a version of your table that includes only the 2-columns “Reviewer Comment” and “Changes Made”, sorted by Reviewer with extra rows inserted in which to name the reviewer ahead of their comments. Tidy up the Changes Made column to use diplomatic language and to communicate the changes as clearly and concisely as possible.
If you used a spreadsheet instead of creating a table in your word-processing application there will be a way to export some of that spreadsheet as a table in the related word-processing program. If you used an electronic task list, see if there is a way to export a group of tasks as a comma- or tab-delimited file, then import that exported file into your word processing application as a table converting the commas (or tabs) to columns. Tidy up. (You can also export data from a spreadsheet that way.)
The benefit of using the table is that you cut and pasted the comments directly from the reviewer documents. The editor will not have to do a lot of work figuring out if you’ve addressed everything.
Option 2: Summarize your changes in a letter
You can use your table to summarize your response to the reviewers comments in prose format in the letter. This is probably a better option if there weren’t that many changes. You might also do this if one of the reviewers took a very different approach from the others and you made a decision not to address any of that reviewer’s comments. You can then explain in a couple of lines why you made that decision and perhaps include the table for the comments you did address from the other reviewers.
Diplomatic language for difficult decisions
I suggested that in your private working table of changes you can swear, insult the reviewer, and so on. I find that can be cathartic and help me move forward with what I have to do. However, there is a big difference between the snarky comments you make when talking to yourself or your closest friend and the kinds of things you want to say publicly, even to close colleagues.
The reviewers are people like you and your colleagues. They are busy. They have bad days. They have agendas. They have strong opinions. Their communication skills vary.
No matter what you think of their comments or how they expressed them, you should communicate with the editor in the way you wish everyone else would communicate. And if you don’t get ruffled by harsh words, you should be considerate of those who do and communicate diplomatically anyway.
Do not over explain. There is no need to be defensive or apologetic. Some things require no explanation. All explanations should be as brief as possible.
Matthew shared a portion of the table he used for one of his (now published) articles. His table included a response to a comment he disagreed with.
This, in my view, mistakes the aim of the paper. The aim is not to make theoretical advances in terms of the accumulation-legitimation relation. Theoretically the aim is to use this account to advance on how existing debates in legitimacy and global environmental governance should be understood, but the principal aim of the paper is to deploy this theoretical notion to advance understanding of the dynamics of climate change governance from a political economy perspective. I have made sure in the introduction to specify the aim of the paper more clearly. (although I think it was already fairly clear what my aim was, to be honest).
That last parenthetical comment was probably unnecessary but you get the idea.
You may also need to say one or more of the following:
This comment takes the paper beyond it’s current scope. I plan to address this very interesting point in a future paper.
This comment contradicts the suggestion of Reviewer X. I decided to incorporate Reviewer X’s suggestion rather than this one.
While I welcome the suggestion to incorporate the work of [suggested author], having looked at their work again I remain confident that it does not add anything of significance to my argument.
If you have other diplomatic language you have used in responses to reviewers comments or useful language you have read in such responses in your role as a journal editor or reviewer, please share in the comments to help those struggling to find a way to say this so they can get their manuscripts resubmitted. Thank you.
“Sharing tacit knowledge of academic publishing: How to respond to Reviewer Comments” by Danielle Lorenz, Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education/Revue canadienne des jeunes chercheur(e)s en éducation Vol 9, no 2 (2018) Only the first part of this article is relevant. The rest is an editor’s introduction to the journal issue.
Edited 28 April 2017 to add embedded tweet and 8 October 2019 to add information about Short Guide.