The Editor Surfaces
Submitted by Clement Weinberger on Mon, 2016-03-21 15:35
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So, what’s been happening with the manuscript that you uploaded a month or two ago? 

You've been logging in to the journal every few days for a while now to follow the status of your article and checking your e-mail carefully. At last, the editor has sent you a decision. What could it be? Accepted with no changes? That's most likely to happen “in your dreams.”  

Rejected, “not suitable for publication in its present form?” Outright rejection is more likely than outright acceptance, but unless there are serious flaws in the study design, data analysis, interpretation of results, or the writing itself, the most common reason for rejection is that the article was not submitted to an appropriate journal. 

That means a reviewer or editor thought that the article would either be not of interest to the readership, or is not within the scope of the journal's editorial policies. That leaves acceptance for publication providing the manuscript is revised in response to reviewer/editor comments and correction of any errors. The revisions may be minor or major. So there you have it. The journal wants to publish the article, but will only do so if some changes are made and some questions answered.

Read the reviews and comments carefully several times before starting to write. This often avoids some silly mistakes or misinterpretations. I've often found that the reviewer didn't actually say what, on first reading, I thought they said. 

Do the easy stuff (grammar, spelling, references, and simple edits) first, and then move on to the more complex responses. For minor changes, you can state in your resubmission cover letter that "all stylistic and grammatical suggestions were incorporated into the manuscript." 

As you do the revisions, you can write what you've done under the comment that the reviewer made and where, in the manuscript, the editor can find the revised text. The point-by-point response letter is important. It's your chance to explain how you've changed (or not changed) the manuscript, and why – and don't forget to thank those involved for their time, careful review, and constructive comments. 

Sometimes, you'll get a comment or request that seems unreasonable, or is just wrong. In that case, first be absolutely sure that you're on the right side of the comment. Did you mis-state something, or was your phrasing unclear or confusing to the reviewer? If so, explain where you think the comment “came from”, adjust the text and move on. 

Be careful how you answer experts who say or imply – “I don’t see it that way” – only because they have decided that “it’s not my problem” and have interpreted things differently than you have. If the reviewer was actually wrong, be polite and thorough in your response. 

State why you disagree and provide evidence to back that up. It’s OK to say “we prefer not to make that change and here’s why”. A reference doesn't hurt. You might consider adding a reference to the paper's bib list. In most cases, editors will accept this response. 

The final decision to accept will most likely be made by the editor who was handling the manuscript, although sometimes (rarely, I think) resubmissions go back to the original reviewers. Meanwhile, remember that while the editor has to know what you've done to the paper, your responses to the peer review comments should be found in your manuscript.

OK, so you are finished revising and responding. Wait a day before resubmitting. Then review the comments to make sure you addressed them all and check the manuscript for consistency. If everything still looks OK, get any internal and coauthor approvals that you need and resubmit. Good Luck!

Next up? Can you do anything if you get a rejection after resubmission? Is there a court of last resort? See you next time.

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