Our paper? It can’t possibly be that bad!

December 22, 2016

Clement Weinberger, PhD, Filipodia Editor


What’s been happening with the manuscript you submitted a couple of months ago? You’ve been logging in to the journal website and checking your email every day to follow the status of your article. At last, you receive a peer review decision. What could it be? “Accepted with no changes?” That’s the best possible outcome, but the probability is <0.5. Outright rejection is more likely than outright acceptance, but unless there are serious flaws in the study design, data analysis, interpretation of the results, or the writing itself, the most common reason for rejection is that the article was not submitted to an appropriate journal. That means a reviewer or editor thought that the article is either not of interest to the readership or is not within the scope of the journal’s editorial policies. That leaves “acceptance for publication if the manuscript is revised in response to reviewer/editor comments and any errors are corrected.” The requested revisions may be minor or major. So, there you have it. The journal will consider publication, but only if changes are considered and questions are answered.

Next steps? Forward the editor’s decision to your coauthors. Attach the decision letter, reviewers’ comments and the manuscript draft. Include a cover note, something like “Good news! The article has been accepted pending revisions. I will send you a draft revision and point-by-point response to the reviewer and editor for your review and comments. In the meantime, send me your suggestions.” You ought to include the dates on which they can expect your drafts, the dates for their expected response to you, and any deadline imposed by the journal.

In nearly every instance, the editors and reviewers want to help you publish the best research paper possible. If your paper was accepted with major revisions, then it has some good content, but needs a lot of work in one area or another. Maybe additional data are needed, or methods need to be more clearly explained, or interpretation of the results needs clarification. If it was accepted with minor revisions, the paper is generally good, except for a some relatively minor points. Change these, and it is likely to be published following a second review.

Read the reviews and comments carefully, several times before starting to write. This often avoids misinterpretations. You may find that the reviewer didn’t say what, on first reading, you thought was said. As you do the revisions, you can explain what you’ve done under the comment that the reviewer made. The point-by-point response letter is important. It’s your chance to explain how you have interpreted their comments and how you have either changed, or chosen not to change, your manuscript. Don’t forget to thank those involved for their time, careful review, and constructive comments, but you only need to do that at the beginning and at the end of your response letter.

If English is not your first language, please consider having a coauthor or colleague who is a native English speaker check both the revised manuscript and the response letter. If that is not possible, most journal Internet sites explain how to find a service to do that for you, and often these are professional service providers, such as Filipodia, that the journal and its publisher have vetted and are confident in their expertise and quality of work. That is very important, because clear expression of your research and its significance allows your work to be fairly reviewed on its scientific merit.

Good luck with future responses and revisions, and remember that even if changes need to be made and questions need to be answered, the editor does have an interest in publishing your research.