How to revise your article after reviewing

Opening the mail…

Once you have submitted your article to a research journal, it can take a few weeks to a few months before you hear back. During that time, your editors are busy finding competent and willing reviewers, and hopefully, those reviewers are busy reading your work with discretion and charity and thinking about the best ways to help you improve your manuscript. If you do not hear back from the editors after 3 months, feel free to send them a friendly reminder that you are still waiting for reviews.

When you get your reviews, do not open them right away. Take a moment to consider whether you have the emotional capacity to hear potentially harsh criticism, and the time and opportunity to respond appropriately. If you do, take a look.

First, look at what the corresponding editor says. On the basis of the reviews, they will have made a decision about how to proceed with your manuscript. Here are some possible decisions:

  1. Accept (never really happens)
  2. Accept with minor revisions (this is fantastic news)
  3. Revise and resubmit (standard)
  4. Reject (hit the ground running; see if there is anything useful in the reviews; if so, improve your article; if not, submit to another journal as is)

Assuming the decision is either 2) or 3), you’ll have to revise your manuscript so you can resubmit it for publication, or at least for the next round of reviewing. That means you’ll have to work very closely with your reviews, in addition to the comments and recommendations of the editor, if any.

Now, there are reviews that are perfectly cheerful and constructive and I hope you get lots of those. There are however also reviews that, at least at first glance, look very much like this:

YOUR STOOPID!!!!!

If you happen to get one of those, take a deep breath, then go to your angry dome to scream until you feel better. Or go for a run. Or meditate, or do whatever you do to handle rage and despair. Then go do [something completely unrelated to that manuscript] for the rest of the day.

When you return to the reviews, you will probably find that even the most brutal looking ones aren’t all that bad at second glance. Even those that remain hostile in tone will generally offer a list of aspects that they  criticize.  This gives you something concrete to work with.

Revising your manuscript

When you prepare your manuscript for resubmission, maybe the most important document is not necessarily the revised manuscript itself, but your response to reviewers. In this document, you will detail all the ways in which you have altered your manuscript to conform to the reviewers’ and editors’ criticism. In those cases where you disagree with your reviewers, you will explain how and why.

Even if your reviews have been presented to you typed in Comic Sans, with lots of all-caps and exclamation marks, your response will be meticulous, flawless and courteous to a fault. I suggest you channel Ip Man.

Writing the response: Using reviews as a to-do-list

Set up your document for the response in the same lay-out as your article.

Before you turn to the individual review, express your gratefulness to the editors and reviewers who have put this much work into your manuscript. Even if you feel your work has been criticized unfairly, these people have put time and effort into struggling with your thoughts. You have to assume that they have done their best. So show some respect.

Then, structure your document according to your reviews, for example:

\section{Review 1}
	\subsection{Major points}
		\begin{itemize}
		\item one
		\item two
		\end{itemize}

	\subsection{Minor points}

\section{Review2}
	\subsection{Major points}
	\subsection{Minor points}

I like to copy-and-paste my reviews into this document. Make sure to escape any special characters such as & if you do this. You will delete most of this text while you work on your revisions, but this will make sure that you won’t forget anything, and sometimes it can be useful to quote the reviewer in responding to their points.

For each of the reviewers’ points, consider whether following their suggestion would improve the manuscript. If so, do it. If not, explain why. Of course, you don’t need to explain or document your correction of typos and other trivial issues. But if in doubt, do document, if only by saying something like RE: inconsistent glosses -> done.

Cross-referencing your manuscript in your response

Take advantage of the package xr to enable cross-references to your manuscript. In your preamble, include

\usepackage{xr}
\externaldocument[main-]{MyAwesomeArticle_v2}%define the prefix for your external document and the path to the document file.

In your manuscript, you can label those lines and paragraphs that you are revising with the \linelabel command like this:

\linelabel{par:awesomeness}There are many different ways to define awesomeness [include reference suggested by reviewer].

Compile your manuscript so that the labels will be available.

Then, in your response you can refer back to this line with the usual \ref command (don’t forget the prefix).

RE: definition of awesomeness. I have reflected on the question and included more references in lines \ref{main-par:awesomeness}ff.

Work systematically through the revisions. Some of them might prompt you to fundamentally rethink your theory or method. Never get defensive. Always be ready to acknowledge major and minor flaws. Don’t despair when you feel a reviewer has found a fatal flaw. Give yourself some time to let this new insight settle in your thoughts. It might give you a new perspective, one that may be even more interesting than your original one. Or it might significantly limit the implications of your work, but it’s always better to state those limitations than to publish half-baked ideas.

When you’re ready, resubmit. When your paper gets accepted, you will be asked to submit your source files along with the pdf. Then you may want to look at this post on how to export your bibliography file for publication. Good luck!

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