Manuscript Revison

Revising a manuscript after review

Journal Decision

After a manuscript has gone through the review process it will be returned with a decision. These generally fall into the following categories:

  • Accepted - The paper is accepted in it’s current form. This never happens on the first round of review.
  • Revisions requested - This generally means that the paper has a very good chance of being accepted assuming that you can successfully respond to review comments.
  • Rejected, but OK to resubmit - This is what used to be called “major revisions” and indicates that while there were meaningful concerns that may involve a significant revision the journal is definitely still interested in publishing the paper. Except in exceptional circumstances you should revise and resubmit to the same journal.
  • Rejected, without the possibility of resubmission - Very common due to journal scope, perceived importance of the paper, and artificial scarcity imposed by journals, but also due to serious concerns about methods or interpretation. Except in exceptional circumstances the next step is to submit to a different journal.

Actively involve co-authors

  • When you receive the reviews and response from the journal, forward it on to your co-authors, even if you are not yet ready to discuss how to handle the comments. If you wait, you’ll forget and then you’ll be racing a deadline to resubmit without having co-authors engaged.
  • It is encouraged to discuss the plan for responding to reviewer critiques with co-authors. Depending on the specifics of the collaboration, different approaches to this may be warranted. You may draft the response to reviewers (see below) and send them out for comments. During the drafting process you may also assign specific comments to specific co-authors if the criticism is pertinent to their role on the manuscript.
  • ALWAYS get co-authors to sign off on the final version of the response and manuscript before resubmitting.
  • ALWAYS share the good news when a manuscript is accepted. Everyone likes good news. :)

Revising the manuscript

When you get your reviews back, the next step is to figure out how to handle them. Typically reviewers will have major and minor criticisms. Your task is to sort through those criticisms and figure out a plan for addressing them. Reviewers are only human and they are not infallible. Their criticisms will fall into one of three categories: useful, neutral, and wrong. You are not required to do everything a reviewers tells you to do. Our philosophy is that we make the changes that improve the manuscript as well as any that are neutral. We try to avoid making changes that make the manuscript worse, though there are occasionally strategic tradeoffs to consider.

The response to review will be composed of three parts:

  1. A point by point response the reviewer comments
  2. The revisions to the manuscript itself
  3. A letter to the editor stating general what you’ve done

We recommend proceeding in this order. First developing a draft of the point by point response to reviewer comments and sharing and discussing it with your co-authors to get everyone on the same page about what to do in response to the reviews. Second, following the point by point document, implementing the changes to the manuscript that you have planned. Third, writing the letter to the editor.

Response to reviewers

This is where you explain in detail the changes that you have made in response to the good and neutral comments and also why you disagree with the recommendations that you think would make the manuscript worse. It is also common for reviewers to recommend that you do some new analysis that expands the current manuscript. It is OK to explain that these kinds of expansions of the topic of the paper are out of scope for the current manuscript.

  1. Read through the reviews and then don’t work on them for a few days. This will help you respond more positively to the reviews when you revisit them.
  2. Copy all of the review comments into a single document with a subsection for each reviewer and the editor if the editor provides specific comments. Keep all of their comments in the document so it is clear you did not edit out any of their concerns and reviewers and editors don’t have to jump back and forth between review and response documents to evaluate your response.
  3. After each distinct comment (often reviewers will construct their reviews so that each paragraph is focused on a separate distinct issue, if not, you can break their paragraphs accordingly) write a response describing what you are going to change in the manuscript, analysis, etc. or what is wrong with the suggestion or that the change is out of scope.

Pay attention for cases where the reviewer comment itself isn’t helpful, but indicates a failure to communicate clearly in the current manuscript. In these cases you should revise the manuscript to avoid similar confusion on the part of readers.

Once you have drafted this, share and discuss it with your co-authors before starting the revise the manuscript itself. This will ensure that everyone agrees on how the paper will be revised (or at least that everyone has had the chance to object to your proposed approach before you do the work). To accomplish this the draft needs to include specific changes that you plan on making, not just general statements that you will make changes in response to a comment.

Examples of Response to Reviewers:

Revisions to the manuscript

Once everyone agrees on the general form of the response use this response document to guide the revision of the manuscript. This may include adding new analyses, changing existing analyses, modifying figures, and revising the written manuscript.

Most journals will require you to submit a version of the manuscript with the changes from the previous submission tracked, so make sure you are working in such a way that you can create this at the end.

Response to editor

When you resubmit you will also submit a cover letter to the editor. This is distinct from the detailed response to reviewers. The cover letter will consist of 2 main parts:

  • A statement similar to that in the cover letter from the initial submission stating the name of the manuscript and the authors and that you have revised your manuscript and are resubmitting it.
  • A paragraph providing an overview of the changes you made in response to the reviews. This paragraph should focus on the major concerns in the reviews, especially any concerns that the editor highlighted in their decision letter. This is your opportunity to briefly explain what positive changes you made in response to the review and to provide a big picture reason for the things you didn’t change. This can really set the tone for how the response to reviewers is read by the editor.

Examples of Resubmission letters: