In this e-learning module, Professor Emeritus Peter Jones discusses how to respond to a manuscript review. Professor Jones has over 40 years experience in plant science research, from molecular to crop community and has published >100 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and books. In addition, he was an associate editor for the European Journal of Plant Pathology for 6 years. Drawing on his experience as an author, a reviewer, and an editor, Professor Jones provides some useful advice on dealing with reviewer comments.
For more information, please see our other blogs on the peer review process.
Content of slides
Responding to a manuscript review
- The presenter. • Professor emeritus, BSc, PhD • 40 years experience in plant science research, from molecular to crop community • >100 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and books • Associate editor for European Journal of Plant Pathology for six years • Reviewer for journals such as Nematology, Plant Pathology, Soil Science, Crop Science, and Seed Science & Technology • Inventor on four patents • Principal Investigator on 47 externally funded research grants • Copyeditor on >400 research manuscripts.
- You receive reviews on your manuscript from the editor of your target journal • This is great news – most submissions are rejected • You are invited to resubmit a manuscript with minor or major revisions after addressing issues raised by the reviewers • Almost all manuscripts require minor or major revisions before being accepted • You (as the corresponding author) are invited to resubmit by a specified date a revised manuscript, taking into account the comments/criticisms of the reviewers (≥2) and possibly the editor.
- Please don’t be disappointed by being asked to revise your manuscript • This process can be quite stressful – you feel that someone has criticised your research and/or your writing! • But please don’t become emotional in your response – reviewers have given up their spare time to read and comment on your manuscript, almost always to make it a better, more robust paper • Research shows that manuscripts which have undergone several rounds of peer review achieve higher citation counts than those accepted more quickly.
- What should you do next? • Your task now is, with your co-authors, to act calmly and to revise the manuscript, taking into account the issues raised by the reviewers • You will need to produce a revised manuscript and detailed responses to the individual points made by the reviewers • Please start with the revision of the manuscript as soon as you can so that you are not rushed by the deadline. If you do not resubmit the manuscript by the deadline, the journal may treat your manuscript as a new submission rather than a resubmission, delaying the decision on whether it should be accepted for publication.
- Your response to the reviewers’ comments. The response to the editor consists of at least three elements: 1. A cover letter, thanking the editor and reviewers, and summarizing the revisions which have been made 2. A list of detailed responses to each of the points raised, stating what changes you made, and where in the revised manuscript the changes are located 3. The revised manuscript without Track Changes, line or page numbering (unless the target journal normally requires line or page numbering for the revised manuscript), which would be the format for publication. An additional, optional element would be: 4. The revised manuscript with alterations highlighted in “Track Changes” (Microsoft) or similar software, and with continuous numbering of pages and lines. This will make it easier for the editor to check the changes you have made.
- Your response to the reviewers comments. Please email the cover letter (as the email message), with the original manuscript identification (ID) code from the journal as the subject line, and separate files attached, with titles such as: • “Detailed responses_JPS1234”, • “Revised manuscript_Track Changes_JPS1234”, and • “Revised manuscript_JPS1234”. unless the journal has specific requirements for the file names. Including the manuscript ID code in the file names is helpful for the editor. The easier you make the job for the editor, the more positively inclined toward your paper they will be.
- Writing your cover letter • Please address the cover letter to the editor who sent you the decision on your manuscript • Please write your response to the editor in a polite, respectful and appreciative tone, even if you disagree with some of the points raised • Summarize the main ways in which you have improved the manuscript in line with the reviewers’ comments, e.g. an additional experiment was carried out, different data analyses were conducted, the Discussion was shortened or lengthened
- Example of a cover letter. Dear Prof. Smith, Thank you for the opportunity to submit a revised version of our paper, now entitled “Phytochrome and shade avoidance in semi- dwarf rice”, by Brown, Grey, White and Black (m/s JPS1234), taking into account your comments and those of the reviewers. The revision has eliminated a number of errors and strengthened the overall manuscript, for which we are grateful. The changes made, addressing the issues raised, have included conducting one additional experiment, in which we compared the shade responses of isogenic tall and semi-dwarf rice, whereas the quality of the English language has been improved by the use of a professional English language editing service.
- Example of cover letter (continued). The detailed responses to the reviewers’ comments are presented in the attached file entitled “Detailed responses”. The line number of the location of each revision in the revised manuscript is described in each response and refers to the attached file entitled “Revised manuscript_Track Changes_JPS1234”. The copy of the revised manuscript without Track Changes is in the attached file “Revised manuscript_JPS1234”. We trust that the revised manuscript, which has been improved by the input of the reviewers, is now acceptable for publication in the Journal of Plant Science. Please feel free to contact me (as the corresponding author) should further clarity be needed. Yours sincerely, ……..
- Format for the “Detailed responses” file. To help the editor as much as possible, please make it clear how each reviewers’ comments have been addressed. • Copy and paste each comment from the decision document into the “Detailed Responses” file, and distinguish it (e.g. present it in bold, italics, highlighted in color, or underlined) from your corresponding response. • For each response, you do not need to thank the reviewer for the query/comment. An appropriate response would be “Agreed”, followed by the revised wording. If the comment is particularly important, please consider “Thank you for this insightful comment”, or include the occasional “Thanks.” • As part of each response, please give the corresponding line number(s) in the “Revised manuscript_Track changes” where the revision is located.
- Example of a section from “Detailed responses”. Reviewer 1. 1. The title is over-long and complicated. Think about making it simpler and more accessible to the readers, avoiding general phrases such as “Effects of …” Agreed. The title has been changed to “Phytochrome and shade avoidance in semi-dwarf rice” (lines 1–2). 2. You have cited almost 80 in-text references in a 5000-word manuscript. This is an excessive number. Agreed. We have reduced some of the multiple reference citations (e.g. lines 37–39 and 44–46), so that the final number of references is 56. 3. The meaning of the sentence “The multiple things semi-dwarf makes it difficult” is unclear. Agreed – please accept our apologies for not spotting this error. The sentence now reads: “The pleiotropic effects of semi-dwarfism can make interpretation of experimental results difficult”, lines 31–33.
- More difficult responses to reviewer’s comments • Please respond to every comment – it will make the work of the editor easier and speed up the decision making • Some comments, however, can be difficult to respond to • A reviewer may say that an additional experiment needs to be carried out. If this can be carried out within the time limits for resubmission and you are confident that the results will benefit the manuscript, please consider doing the extra experiments. • If not, please explain politely to the editor why you have not carried out the experiment requested: – it would be useful but outside the scope of the research – the other reviewer did not feel that it was necessary – it would be useful but could not be completed within the time available.
- More difficult responses to reviewer’s comments • Wherever possible, please do what the reviewer asks • But it is quite common that you are faced with a comment or criticism with which you do not agree – how do you deal with this situation? • Even if you feel that the comment is inappropriate, please respond politely to the editor and explain why, in your opinion, the requested change is unnecessary. • Consider presenting additional data, Tables, Figures, or references in your response (these would not be intended to be included in the manuscript) to support your case.
- Final “polishing” of your resubmission documents • Please make sure that all your co-authors are satisfied with the revised manuscript and response letter before you make the resubmission • Please consider asking ISE to copyedit the revised manuscript file with the Track Changes to avoid any problems with English language – if ISE copyedited the original manuscript, Track Changes of up to 500 words will be copyedited without charge • Please also consider asking ISE to copyedit the cover letter and ”Detailed responses” files – for the latter, the reviewers’ comments would not be included in the word count.
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