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Dos and don'ts of addressing reviewer comments with manuscript revisions

You and your co-authors have received notification from the journal's editorial office: your paper has been reviewed and they request revisions. They have sent you an itemised list of revision requests from each reviewer, along with resubmission guidelines. Now what?

There are a range of approaches to addressing reviewer comments appropriately. Below are the best practical tips that will help you maximise your success in publishing.

Do: Celebrate the request to revise. . .

Congratulations! With any journal's review process, if your paper is not rejected, it is still alive and has a fighting chance of ultimately being accepted. The vast majority of submissions to most journals are either rejected outright or after the first review. View the request to revise as a positive outcome.

Don't: Get cocky. . . 

With that said, don't assume your paper will necessarily be accepted if revised. Acceptance depends upon many factors, only one of which is your properly revised manuscript. Many authors wrongly assume their paper has been accepted, pending revisions, when no such promise was explicitly given. 

Don't: Get defensive towards the reviewers

Understandably, as the author, you may have some emotional links to your manuscripts. After all, authors have invested greatly in their research and writing. You might think: ‘How dare this unknown reviewer ask for changes on your masterpiece?!’ Don't go down that path. By requesting revisions, the reviewers and journal editors show they are advocates for your paper. Their requests for revision are intended not to criticise, but to improve the document. 

Do: Share the reviewer comments with your writing team

Update your author team. Has everyone read the comments carefully? This practice keeps your co-authors apprised of the status of the article and provides consensus on how to revise the paper. Additionally, seeking input from co-authors affords them the opportunity to contribute not only to the initial manuscript, but to successive versions. Their individual voices and identities help shape the overall final version, creating a more representative, inclusive and diverse product.

Do: Follow every step or procedure requested by the journal's editorial office

Editorial offices will provide specific details on how to resubmit the paper, and what to include with the resubmission. Give them what they want, clearly outlined, detailed and labeled. If something is unclear, contact them to ask for clarification. It would be better to ask for details than to proceed and not address the revisions correctly.

Do: Make it easy for the editorial office and reviewers to locate and see your revisions

Along with your revised manuscript, you will submit a detailed revision letter. This letter outlines your responses to the reviewers, and how and where you changed the paper. 

  • Do: Be gracious towards every reviewer for their comments

    There is a proverb that says, 'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.' Even if you ultimately disagree with a reviewer comment, respectfully acknowledging their input and explaining your thought processes goes a long way towards making that reviewer an ally for your paper. Remember that each reviewer has probably spent several hours going over your submission. Effectively, they anonymously contribute diverse layers of perspective, experience and knowledge to your paper, all of which strengthen it. Showing thanks in your revision letter is an easy way to show appreciation and give encouragement in return.

  • Do: Address every comment from every reviewer

    Cut and paste reviewer comments into your revision letter, then address them one by one. If you make the requested changes in the manuscript, show the original text of the manuscript, and then your edited text that satisfies the reviewer's comment. Don't be concerned if your revision letter is long; clarity and precision are key with this letter.

  • In the revised manuscript:
    • Clearly indicate all edits (for example, using track changes, strikethroughs, highlights, text in colours, etc.). The editorial office may specify how to indicate edits.
    • Use the line number function in MS Word to clearly identify edits in your manuscript. 

A Few Parting Nuggets

  • Don't: Add new or extraneous data or case material to the manuscript

    Exception: Add new data only if it is highly relevant to your paper. Stay focused on your topic and on your specific study. If you have additional cases to add or extended follow-up data, you may consider adding it.

  • Don't: Add authors to the revised manuscript

    Exception: Add an author if revisions are so extensive that they require additional colleagues to provide/interpret/analyse the new data for the paper. Legitimate contributions from new, diverse voices strengthens the overall academic process. If you do feel the need to add an author, contact the journal to explain your situation and ask for their protocols on doing so. Then follow those protocols.

  • Do: Resubmit as expeditiously as possible

    If given a deadline for resubmission, don't miss it!

  • Do: Communicate with the editorial office

    If you decide not to resubmit a revised paper, please let the editorial office know. They will appreciate the update, and this will enable them to keep their database current. 

Summary

Following these suggestions will make a positive impression on the reviewers, editor and editorial office team. They will respect the care and attention to detail you have demonstrated in the revision and resubmission of your manuscript.

 

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