October 30, 2009

How to Respond to a Request to Revise and Resubmit from an Academic Journal

When I send a paper off to an academic journal, usually the best I can hope for is a request to “Revise and Resubmit,” often referred to in academic-ese as an “R&R.” So, when I do get an R&R, I try to feel like I have accomplished something. I tell myself that an R&R is a necessary first step to an “Accept”. So far, this has been true. Of the five R&R's I have received to date, four have been accepted as articles. (The fifth is still under review, and I am hoping to have the same luck with that one.)

When I get an R&R, I read over the reviews, and then set them aside for a few days. Without exception, there are harsh criticisms in the reviews, and it takes a few days for the bite to wear off. During that time, I complain to my friends about the petty issues the reviewers harped on and how they surely were just mad because I didn't cite their work. Once that is all out of my system, I am ready for the second step.

The second step is to take each of the reviewers' and the editors’ suggestions and put them into an Excel file – point by point. To do this, I create a blank Excel file. In the far left column, I put either Reviewer #1, Reviewer #2, etc., or Editor. In the next column, I put the corresponding comment. In the next column over, I will put how I respond, but that's jumping ahead.

Once I have put each comment into a separate row, I categorize the comments by topic. This is the third step. Usually, there are several that go together. In a recent R&R, for example, the reviewers and editor suggested, in different ways, that I clarify the difference between race and color. So, I put all of those suggestions together. Steps 2 and 3 usually take one writing session – about two or three hours. After that, it is time to set the R&R aside at least until the next day.

Step 4 is to pick the easiest tasks and to begin to tackle them. For example, the reviewer might suggest that I be sure to include the age of each interviewee. That is fairly easy, and something I can do immediately. I usually do all of the easy tasks first, as this allows me to ease my way back into the document and to re-familiarize myself with a manuscript I have not glanced at for several months. It also allows me to feel like I am making progress, as I am checking off tasks as “done.”

The next step is to respond systematically to each comment. Leaving the column to the right of the comments empty ensures that I respond individually to each point. Here, it is important to use action verbs. For example, “I clarified the distinction between race and color” or “I included the age of each interviewee.” NB: I respond to each of the reviewers' suggestions, even if I disagree. If I do not do what they suggest, I explain why. I know I have completed Step Five when all of the rows are filled with an explanation of what I have done.

Step 6 is to use the Excel file to create a Memorandum of Response to the Reviewers and the Editor. This is fairly simple as it simply involves transferring the Excel file to a Word file, and making it look nice and easy to follow.

Finally, I read over the article to make sure it flows all together. Usually, I print it out and read the whole thing aloud before sending it off again. I also double-check the bibliography and make sure I haven't made any stylistic errors such as splitting infinitives or repeatedly using the same conjunctions and adjectives.

The final step is to wait and hope for an “Accept.” If not, then I brush myself off, revise, and send the article back off again.

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