How to ‘revise and resubmit’: advice from journal Editors

In the initial post in this series, I summarised the presentation on manuscript submission given by Pat Soranno (Editor-in-Chief, ASLO’s Limnology and Oceanography: Letters) and Robert Pincus (Editor-in-Chief, AGU’s Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems) at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting. Here, I will focus on a key point explored in the ensuing discussion, specifically the issue of how to effectively resubmit a manuscript and the associated ‘response to reviewer comments’ document.

 

While much is discussed and written about how to prepare a manuscript to submit to a journal, far less emphasis is placed on how to effectively ‘revise and resubmit’. Consequently, confusion remains around this part of the manuscript submission process. At the OSM workshop many questions were posed to the Editors as to how authors can effectively show they have revised a manuscript, particularly in the ‘response to reviewers’ document.

 

The feedback from the Editors emphasized that review documents should be written to them as they are, indeed, the ones who hold the final decision regarding acceptance (or rejection), rather than the reviewers who raised the issues initially. When the target audience for the review documents is recognised as the Editors, this can allow authors to address comments in a critical, but somewhat selective, way. That is, while authors writing to the reviewers may feel that they need to adopt all suggested changes to appease each reviewer, those writing to Editors more easily realise that they can balance that need if they disagree with a reviewer comment. Like the author, Editors don’t necessarily agree with every comment raised by reviewers. Consequently, Editors are not necessarily looking at these documents for evidence that every comment was addressed exactly as specified by the reviewer. Rather, Editors are looking to see that comments have been read, understood, and taken seriously. While an author doesn’t necessarily need to make the suggested change, some editing is often beneficial. For example, when there is something a reviewer has not understood and commented on, this will often need to be rectified in some way. There are, as always, exceptions to this advice. If the comments are, for example, largely focussed on writing style, these may not need to be addressed given this is an issue of taste but, nevertheless, the authors need to acknowledge whether they changed the text as suggested or not and provide reasons for their decisions.

 

In addition to the content of these response documents, their style was also discussed. While the specific preferences of each Editor varied, the key message was clear: make the review document and reviewed manuscript easy to read, with changes clearly shown and linked between the two documents. This may mean the use of bold fonts, or of colour, or of tables, all of which were acceptable to the Editors – and preferable to a long, dense document of single-spaced text of the same font and style.

 

By writing the ‘response to reviews’ for the Editors (both in terms of content and style), it is more likely that these decision-makers will understand the changes you have (or haven’t) made, allowing for a quick decision on the outcome of your resubmission.

 

That discussion led well into the next workshop related to publishing and peer-review at the 2018 OSM, which was on the topic of manuscript submission from the perspective of the reviewer. A summary of that presentation will be the topic of the next post in this series.

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