Ok. So your hard work hasn’t paid off. The article has come back from the journal and the referee comments are really critical and they are suggesting that you either give up or do a big rewrite. What do you do now?
Rule 1: Do not immediately email the editor and say how angry/hurt/distraught/crushed/terrified/furious you are – even if that is how you feel.. We ALL feel bad when we get knocked back. It’s human. We’ve put ourselves out there to be judged, but when we are it’s not always pleasant. It’s normal to have strong feelings.
So go ahead and vent – write the email about how you feel - and then sit on it. Prima donna tantrums do not produce positive results and may well earn you a covert reputation for being difficult. DO NOT PRESS SEND.
Rule 2: Wait for two days and then re-read the referees’ comments. Make a table which has a column for suggested changes and another for your actions. Put each suggestion for a change on one row.
Now think about whether you want to do what is required in each instance. It is actually OK not to do what’s been proposed if you have a good reason and you shouldn’t feel inadequate or wrong if you disagree with aspects of the comments. But do think this over, maybe there is a point to what you are being asked to do. Remember that if they haven’t got your point this is because you probably could explain it better.
You may decide it’s just going to be too much trouble to do what’s required, but before you do that…
Rule 3: Seek some advice. My writing partner Barbara Kamler has written about the value of having what she calls a publication broker – someone who will help you to sort through what actually has been written in the referee report. It’s often much too easy to focus entirely on the negatives and not see the positives. Another person can help you to put things into perspective. It’s also sometimes hard to work out what the referees actually want you to do. There can be a kind of code in referee comments which a more experienced colleague can help you to interpret.
Rule 4: Take your time in revising. Don’t rush things – but don’t wait too long either to resubmit. Anything over three months between report and resubmission runs the risk of being put back into the system as if it were a new article. But really – don’t rush it. Think about what has been suggested and weigh it all up.
Rule 5: If the referee does say something incredibly useful then thank them in a note at the end of the article. This is not only good manners but also pays due respect to the intellectual gift that was given via the review.
Rule 6: Write to the Editors with the revised paper and explain what you’ve done and what you haven’t, and why if it’s the latter. Some journals ask you to highlight or track changes in the text so they can see exactly what’ s been changed.
Anticipate that not only the article but also the letter you write may go out to the same referees as before, so don’t make rude comments about the referees being cloth-eared muppets who wouldn’t know a contribution to knowledge if they fell over one. Save that discussion for your mates. But be careful, because you never know with blind peer reviews -the colleague sitting next to you might be your referee!!
Kamler, B (2010) Revise and resubmit: The role of publication brokers, in Aitchison, C; Kamler, B and Lee, A. Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond. London: Routledge pp. 64-82.