How to deal with revise and resubmit to an academic journal
As you already know, the quality of the manuscript is a decisive criterion for its screening in / out at the pre-peer review—preliminary editorial review, that is—stage. During an initial review, the journal editors generally aim at identifying whether the manuscript:
- sufficiently satisfies editorial guidelines of that journal;
- is likely to provide clear scientific contribution and implications for the domain in question; and
- has some likelihood to be favourably evaluated by the journal’s peer reviewers.
If the submission passes this preliminary screening by the journal editors, it then goes to peer reviewers. The results of the review by peers are recommendations to the journal editors instead of a categorical Yes / No verdict. Most scholarly journals in any scientific discipline classify article submissions into at least three general categories:
- ‘Revise & Resubmit’, and
In this note, I will discuss the particularities of the ‘Revise & Resubmit’ (R&R) peer reviewers’ recommendation, as it is today statistically the most common outcome of scholarly article submissions in most disciplines.
Revise and Resubmit
As both an editorial and peer reviewer for several academic journals, including multi-disciplinary ones, I can fairly say that today, it happens increasingly that journal editors may come to somewhat paradoxical conclusions. This especially happens when one of the two peer reviewers recommends accepting the article (either with minor or major revisions), while another one recommends to reject it. The journal editors may thus be quite divided, both because of the peer review results, and because of their own conclusions that may be quite contradictory. Namely, on the one hand, the piece may be striking in any number of ways: the choice of topic, the originality of the research question and/or principal argument, the novel method and/empirical data therein, etc. On the other hand, the piece may simply be too raw.
Another reason why researchers in all disciplines are increasingly receiving their manuscripts back with the R&R verdict is more straightforward: both (or all, in case of multiple reviewers) peer reviewers may recommend revising and resubmitting the manuscript.
Note that, generally, R&R does not mean the same as ‘Accept with major revisions’. While, in both cases, there is a considerable amount of revisions to make, ‘Accept with major revisions’ means that the reviewer recommends to the journal editors to ultimately accept the manuscript after thorough revisions have been made by the author. In the case of R&R, however, the reviewer’s message is the following: there is much promise in the piece, but it requires a general overhaul before it could be considered for acceptance by the journal—more research, more depth in developing arguments, more attention to counter-arguments, more care in expressing them, etc. R&R means a kind of ‘second chance’, but at this stage, a researcher cannot be sure at all that at the end, their revised submission will be accepted. What is assured in the case of R&R, is that a researcher needs to engage with every other review comment even more thoroughly than they would do in case of different review categories (except the rejection, of course).
At the same time, a good R&R peer report is much more beneficial to a scholar’s work on both that article and their overall research, than acceptance in present form or with minor changes. It is, in fact, invaluable. A good R&R peer report is likely to give to a researcher detailed comments, a specific road map, suggestions for the current and future work, and more.
On engagement with R&R
To engage with peer reviewers, you need precisely that—an engagement. As is clear from the above, you need it most when dealing with R&R. Therefore, try to address each reviewer’s comments as completely as possible. While you do not necessarily have to accept the totality of reviewer’s views and suggestions, and hence incorporate all of them into your revised manuscript, you must address absolutely all reviewers’ points in your response to reviewers—typically, a letter, actually addressed to the editors of the journal.
Here it is essential to keep in mind two different, yet complementary, things:
- firstly, R&R is not a decision, not even a recommendation, to accept your manuscript with major revisions—opposite so, you must first thoroughly revise the paper according to the R&R review report, before it could be considered for acceptance (even if with a second round of significant revisions) by the journal;
- secondly, and consequently, while the reviewers may be quite critical of your article project, your reply is being written for the journal’s editors, not for the reviewers.
So my advice is simple: write with a clear idea of who is the audience in mind. Your manuscript, thoroughly revised, typically goes to the same peer reviewers who wrote the R&R report. However, your rebuttal letter—the response to reviewers—actually goes to the journal editors. Address all peer reviewers’ arguments, literally point by point, in your letter. Incorporate in your revised manuscript as many of their suggestions as you can, but remember that you do not have any obligation to accept all reviewers’ comments—only those that you deem help to improve the paper. The most straightforward form of engagement with the peer reviewers if you do not agree with some of their points, is questioning—very politely, but firmly—their reasons and explaining why some of their comments are not entirely relevant for your particular article, quoting the comments explicitly. Last but not least, remember to be polite, positive and constructive in any event.
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