How to handle a “Major revisions” decision
Getting a “major revisions” decision is quite common. In fact, if you don’t get a desk reject, then major revisions is the most common decision to expect. So, while you may feel beaten down by seven pages of comments from reviewers, know that a “major revisions” decision is a pathway towards improvement. You may be sad that your well-crafted paper got some major criticism.
Here are my best tips for resubmission:
- Write a clear rebuttal to the comments of the reviewers: Make sure your replies to the comments of the reviewers are organized. I usually use bold for the original comment, then normal font for my reply and explanations, and then copy and italicize the sections in the text that I modified. As a reviewer, I hate it when authors just reply “done” to a comment and I need to go figure out how and where they included my observation. Don’t be that author – take the reviewer by the hand to show them what you did.
- Make sure you check all the requirements for resubmission: What do you need for resubmission? Does the journal ask for a version in which you highlighted or used track changes to show the changes you made? Review this information before you start making changes to the paper, so that you can make sure to switch on that track changes option on time.
- Take the time you need: If you get a “major revisions” decision and the journal wants the new version tomorrow, you can ask them for more time. Publishers are pushing for always faster rates of publication, but editors and reviewers sure value your taking some extra time to deliver quality work. On the other hand, if you get a year to resubmit, then don’t let the work fester for 11 months before you get to it again.
- Take every comment of the reviewers seriously: Don’t gloss over some of the comments of the reviewers, and make sure you treat every comment with the same rigor. If you think a certain remark is wrong, stupid, or irrelevant, then remain polite to the reviewer and explain why you won’t include this information. However, it’s always good to take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of the reviewer – maybe your writing is not that clear and confuses the reader.
- Understand the comments and plan accordingly: Understand which comments point at main flaws in your thinking, which comments require better explanation, and which comments are purely editorial. Start from the main changes required to your work and work your way down to the smaller details. Chances are, a number of the smaller details will not need to be addressed once you’ve made major changes – for example, rephrasing a sentence from the first version of the paper that may not be part of the resubmission anymore.
- If you need to disagree with a reviewer, lean on the literature: You have all the rights to disagree with a reviewer, but to avoid an opinion-versus-opinion approach, it’s best to look for additional evidence in the literature for your point of view or explanation. Where possible, cite references that support your point of view in the rebuttal.
- If relevant, include additional information in the rebuttal: If you have additional detailed results, calculations, photographs, or other relevant information that you can’t add to the paper, you can still add it to the rebuttal to give the reviewer extra insights in your findings.
- Tell the editor about unethical requests from the reviewers: Here, I disagree with the article I referred to previously. If the reviewer wants you to cite Jones et al. 1975 (to build on the example from the source I linked to), and this article has only tangential relevance to your work, then don’t cite it. I’ve seen way too many times reviewers just putting their own articles in their review report, essentially forcing you to cite their work and pump up their h-index. This practice is not ethical and the editor may have missed this comment. Let the editor know that you won’t buy into this.
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