More things I learned whilst being underemployed – this time (as the title suggests) about dealing with reviewers’ comments on your work.
- If your manuscript comes back from the reviewers with recommendations for change, bear in mind that someone needs to check that you have actually addressed them effectively, so it is really helpful if you include a note with the new manuscript that indicates how you think you have done what they asked. List each recommendation and then say how you have dealt with it. If you are not going to do what has been suggested, (and this is your right – reviewers are not infallible) it is crucial that you justify this. I personally would not bother prefacing this note with “the author(s) thank(s) the reviewers for their helpful comments” because (a) you probably don’t, since many of them are not tactfully phrased even if they’re correct and (b) in most cases, the reviewers probably aren’t going to be the people who check the revised manuscript unless perhaps the person who is checking it thinks you have done a really bad job of addressing the recommendations and one of the recommendations is that the paper only be accepted if it is radically reworked.
- Reviewers don’t always make sensible comments. One comment I read suggested that the paper would be better if it stopped trying to stretch itself to be relevant to distance education and confined itself to topic X. This was, in fact, true, but seeing the conference at which it is to be presented was on distance education, what s/he should have recommended was that the authors articulated more clearly how the model they were advocating was (particularly) relevant to teaching by distance. Reviewers may say that the paper would be much better if A was expanded, and this may well be true, but if the paper is already up to the word limit and you have already edited it very tightly to get it that short, you won’t be able to expand A unless you drop something else. An alternative is to flag A as something that would be worthy of being dealt with further in another publication.
- Reviewers don’t always agree and you sometimes have to read between the lines of their comments. You may be presented with one set of comments that says that the paper would be much better if it omitted all reference to X and another that says that the best bit of it was the section about X which needs to be expanded. Since you obviously can’t do both, you need to decide which reviewer to go with, but bear in mind, if you decide to expand the material about X, that you probably haven’t articulated clearly enough how X is relevant to the rest of the paper if the other reviewer thinks it can be cut out completely. See if you can make the links clearer.
- Remember that while you will probably never know who your reviewers are, they may well make a point of reading the final version of your paper when it is published, or of attending your conference presentation. They have expertise in your field or they would not have been asked to review it in the first place, so keeping them on side if possible is not a bad idea. Try to take as much of their advice into account as you can, or indicate subtly why you haven’t (eg “Some might suggest that A, but in view of X & Y, it seems more likely that B”). In particular, if they suggest that you might find a particular article or author’s work useful, include it in your revised version if at all possible. The published version of the paper is the right place to put your little note about thanking the reviers, if they did indeed make helpful suggestions.
- Once you have completed your revisions, check the manuscript very carefully – not just for typos and oddities of expression; also check the references very carefully. The editors will pick up your typos, but not incorrect references, and it is possible that in moving text around you have left some or all of the relevant citions in the wrong place, or removed a point without removing the relevant citations. This is particularly likely if you have initially said something like “Many sources demonstrate that A and B are important” and you then change the sentence to say “Many sources demonstrate that A is important”. You need to check that none of the citations are only relevant to B, which you have now removed. If what you have written is of any interest in your field, people will check those references because they want to read more about your subject matter (or because you have cited them and they want to see what you’re saying abou their work) and you will end up looking careless or silly.
- When you have what you believe to be the final version of the text, remove the bibliographic software codes and make sure that the formatting complies with the style guide. If the conference, journal or organisation provides a template you would ideally have been using it from the outset, because applying template styles to your headings, bullets etc is much faster than manually formatting each of them every time you use them, but it is still not too late to attach it to your text. Be a little wary about conference proceedings templates and style guides, though. If they have been adjusted from some well-recognised format, they may not be free of error because the adjustments may have been done in a hurry by a member of the organising committee whose primary expertise is in another area. I have recently been working on a paper for a conference, the template for which does not apply the level 3 header formatting prescribed in the style guide. The style guide is also fun. It says that references should be formatted to comply to APA 5, which I did. I then read it a bit more carefully and discovered that what they really wanted was APA 5 with modifications to the way electronic articles are cited. I agree that their method is more user-friendly but if they’d said up-front that they wanted a modified form of APA 5, I would have read the formatting examples more carefully the first time round.
What you are aiming to do with all this is to make your paper as easy to publish as possible. If you are not a Big Name in your field, you want to create a good impression with the editor(s) as someone whose work doesn’t take huge amounts of staff time and effort to get into publishable form. Even if you are a Big Name, I would argue that it is a courtesy to the people who are putting the publication together to prepare you paper well, but if you’re an early career researcher (aka beginner) being a pleasure to work with cannot do you any harm at all in the publishing stakes. :-) Especially since many of the people involved are doing their editing work on top of their other academic workload as part of their service to the academic community.