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Make-or-break communication with journal editors: Why a well-written and effective ‘response to reviews’ document is important when submitting your paper to a journal

 

Picture the scene: You’ve submitted your paper to a well-known journal and it’s been sent out for peer review. This is a major achievement to start with: many journals with high impact factors also have high rejection rates before review (the process of so-called ‘editorial triage’, sometimes also called ‘editorial desk rejection’). You may already be in the top ten percent of papers received by the editors of your target journal.

 

The process then becomes a waiting game, at least for a few weeks, while peer reviewers (colleagues who are experts in your field) assess your work for your target journal. They will return their decisions to the editorial office who will then edit, summarise, and return them to you. How long should this take? This is a common question that’s very hard to answer (as it depends on busy academics who have a lot of other priorities) but bear in mind that the average time between submission and online publication is around 90 days. We therefore recommend that if more than two months pass and you haven’t heard back from an editorial office then you should write a polite email and ask for an update.

 

What happens next, when you receive review comments on your paper? What’s the next stage of the publication process? We find that young researchers tend to find this next stage of the process to be the most confusing: we can help. We provide templates and training to help you effectively respond to review comments when writing back to journals.

 

Most people are aware that when papers come back from peer review, one of four things can happen: ‘reject’, ‘major revisions’, ‘minor revisions’, and ‘accept’. The first and last of these outcomes are highly unlikely following initial review: if your paper was going to be rejected outright then an editor would have probably made this decision before soliciting reviews, while acceptance without suggestions for improvement is equally unlikely.

 

The most likely outcome is that your paper will come back from review with either ‘minor’ or ‘major’ revisions required. How should you respond? What’s the best approach?

 

The most important thing to keep in mind when responding to review comments is to show the editor that you are taking this process seriously. We recommend that you make a document that intersperses the comments you received with your responses: within a word file, most people use a different colour or a different font to respond to all commentary on your paper. Do this for all comments, even if they are minor, e.g. spelling mistakes and similar (‘thank you for pointing out this spelling error: we have corrected this error in our revision’); going through this process comprehensively will help to convince your editor that you are prepared to work to make your paper better and that you appreciate the comments received in review. Remember that reviewers are often participating in this process in their spare time.

 

Politeness is another very good strategy to adopt when responding to reviews: write things like ‘thank you for this very insightful comment’, or ‘thank you for making this valuable suggestion’. Bear in mind that if your paper comes back with ‘major revisions’ requested then both the amended manuscript and your comments are likely to be returned to the original reviewers via the editor. Writing things like ‘great comment’, and ‘thank you for that excellent and insightful series of remarks’ is likely to put reviewers in a good mood when they re-read your rebuttal document. This is one way in which you can do all you can to enhance your chances of eventual acceptance.

 

We provide an extensive series of training courses and documentation via our education service Charlesworth Knowledge to help you survive the peer review process. Get in touch with one of our team for more information.