Perspectives on Preparing Your Revised Manuscript from Associate Editors in School Psychology
By Laura Pendergast, Temple University
Contributors: Stacy-Ann January, University of South Carolina; Lyndsay Jenkins, Florida State University; Renee Hawkins, University of Cincinnati
Imagine that you are new author and you are ready to publish. You’ve worked hard to conduct your research and prepare your manuscript. You’ve carefully selected a journal. You’ve followed all of the instructions for publishing in said journal, navigated the online submission portal, and submitted your paper. You’ve waited patiently (or not so patiently) for weeks. Then, all of a sudden, an email from the journal with a subject line that reads “Manuscript Decision” pops into your inbox. You cannot wait any longer! You read the email discreetly (or not so discreetly) while holding your phone under the table during a faculty meeting. With a sigh of relief, you see that your manuscript was not rejected outright. However, it wasn’t accepted either….
You received a “Revise and Resubmit.” Now what? If you are an early career scholar, and you recently received a “Revise and Resubmit,” you are in luck! Three Associate Editors from top school psychology journals have teamed up to provide advice for early career scholars on revising and resubmitting their work. Dr. Stacy-Ann January is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina and an Associate Editor at School Psychology Review. Dr. Lyndsay Jenkins is an Assistant Professor at Florida State University and an Associate Editor at the Journal of School Psychology. Dr. Renee Hawkins is a Professor at the University of Cincinnati and an Associate Editor at the Journal of School Psychology. An overview of the steps for revising and resubmitting your work, along with key pieces of advice from each Associate Editor, is provided below.
Step 1: Celebrate a little! But recognize that your journey isn’t finished yet.
SAJ: First, celebrate a little! I remember feeling a little disappointed when I received my first Revise and Resubmit (R&R). But my mentor reminded me that this decision is typically what one can hope for, as manuscripts are rarely accepted on the first submission. An R&R means that the journal may be interested in publishing your manuscript, but that there are a number of changes you to need make before it is in a potentially publishable form.
RH: A ‘Revise and Resubmit’ decision suggests that the reviewers and action editor see the potential for your manuscript to make a contribution to the literature, which alone can be reinforcing as it can reaffirm the significance of your research agenda. It is also important to keep in mind that how you respond to the feedback provided on your submission plays a critical role in determining whether or not your manuscript is ultimately accepted. There is no guarantee that a “Revise and Resubmit” will automatically lead to acceptance but if you are thoughtful with your approach to integrating the editorial feedback, you can greatly increase your chances for a positive outcome.
Step 2: Read the reviews. Manage your emotional response to critical comments. Be ready to write your response to reviewers using a respectful, appreciative tone and to use the feedback to improve your work.
RH: Don’t take the feedback personally. The reviewers aren’t out to get you. They are trying to advance our field by helping improve the quality of manuscripts published in our journals. Avoid being defensive in your responses to reviewer feedback.
LJ: Feedback about your work from other researchers is an opportunity to make changes that can improve the quality of your paper. Though it is tempting to get defensive or upset about the feedback provided, it is important to keep in mind that overall a R&R is good news!!
RH: The tone of your response should be respectful. Remember the reviewers have provided a valuable professional service by taking their time to review your manuscript and provide their suggestions for improvements. Your response should reflect that you value their time and ideas, even if you do not agree with everything they have to say.
Step 3: Revise the manuscript, and write the point-by-point response letter. In most instances, you should make the changes suggested by reviewers.
SAJ: To the extent possible, try to make the changes suggested by the AE and reviewers. In your response letter, detail exactly what you did to address the suggested change. Reviewers may make several suggestions in one numbered comment; be sure to address each of them.
RH: Take the feedback in the spirit it was intended – to improve the quality of your manuscript. In this spirit, try to incorporate as much of the feedback as you reasonably can, even if some of the suggested revisions seem unnecessary to you. If a revision does not substantially change the meaning of your manuscript, I would go ahead and make the changes. In my opinion, digging in your heels over feedback that does not impact the overall message and contribution of your manuscript seems to be a waste of energy that could potentially jeopardize the editorial decision on your manuscript.
LJ: I would say one of the most common mistakes I see is that authors do not fully address an issue raised by the reviewers. This mistake is particularly problematic when they say that they have addressed it. For example, an editor may note that References are not in APA style in the initial submission. Upon resubmitting the manuscript, the authors may say in the response letter that they addressed the APA style issues in the References, but, in fact, many errors are still present. If you say you addressed something, be sure that you actually did address it.
RH: It is helpful to reviewers if you describe specifically how and where in the manuscript you made revisions in response to the feedback. For example, rather than responding simply with, “We have incorporated this feedback in the manuscript,” provide a more detailed description of your revision with a statement such as, “On, p. 10, we have added the following paragraph…
In many journals, the action editor will act as a filter for the comments provided by individual reviewers. The feedback highlighted by the action editor should be prioritized in your revision. Generally, these are the changes that the action editor thinks are most important for you to make in your revision. Given that the action editor will ultimately recommend to the editor whether or not to publish your work, it is critical that you attend to this feedback.
SAJ: The number of revisions that are requested can be daunting. If you’re the lead author, don’t go at a revision alone! Review the suggested revisions and determine how you might engage your co-authors in revising and resubmitting the document.
Step 4: Do not ignore feedback. If you choose not to make a suggested change, provide a thorough and respectful rationale explaining why you declined to make the edit. Provide empirical support if applicable.
RH: One common mistake that authors make when revising and resubmitting their work is to ignore feedback with which they do not agree.
SAJ: If you disagree with a change, you should have a strong rationale for not making it. Thank the reviewer for the comment, and eloquently provide the rationale (supporting your argument with science is always a good idea if you’re able to).
RH: If the reviewers make a suggestion that you cannot address (i.e., you don’t have the additional information they are requesting), not only should you explain why you cannot integrate the feedback in your response but also consider raising the issue as a limitation or discussion point in your revised manuscript.
LJ: Be nice: It can be easy to slip into a defensive tone when writing these response letters, particularly if you do not agree with some of the reviewer feedback.
RH: Don’t use page limitations as a reason not to make a revision. This is a pretty weak excuse for not making a suggested revision. I would err on the side of making the revision as efficiently as possible and explaining to the action editor that, in your effort to be responsive to reviewer feedback, you are over the page limit.
SAJ: When preparing your response letter, make it clear and easy to read.
Step 5: Follow all instructions for resubmission, and proofread, proofread, proofread!
LJ: You should strive to submit an immaculate manuscript. You should spend a couple hours editing and proofreading before submitting a manuscript and ensure that you are following the journal’s formatting guidelines… Pay special attention to use of headings/subheadings, page numbers, references, and correct use of parenthetical and in-text citations. Typos, grammar, English language issues, and the misuse of APA guidelines are distractions to the content of the paper!!! Even if you have done THE COOLEST study of all time, it will be rejected if it is poorly written.
Follow all resubmission guidelines! Every journal has different guidelines for submitting a revised manuscript. Read the instructions in the editor’s letter very carefully before re-submitting.
SAJ: Often when making revisions, you’re adding and deleting text. It is very easy to miss things, as you’ve been entrenched in it for so long. One of the best pieces of advice I got about writing from my mentor was to read my work out loud. I still read every manuscript I author/coauthor out loud before I submit/resubmit it, and I always catch something I previously missed. I also recommend having someone not involved with the writing of the manuscript read it as well.
Other points to consider
LJ: Though in general a R&R is good news, on occasion you may receive a Reject after submitting revisions. There are a number of reasons why this happens. First, you may not have appropriately addressed reviewer feedback. Second, new reviewers may have been invited to review the new manuscript and these new reviewers may bring up issues not previously noted. Third, a statistical or methodological consultant may have reviewed the second version of the manuscript and identified problems that were not previously brought up.
SAJ: Often, AEs will invite you to contact them with questions about the revision. Feel free to do so, if you have clarifying questions that the AE can address. It is better to ask for clarification regarding a suggested revision than to make an incorrect assumption.
In summary, a decision of “Revise and Resubmit” is something to celebrate – while recognizing that there is more work to be done. When you receive a “Revise and Resubmit,” you receive an important gift along with it: feedback. You have the opportunity to improve your work, and, often, to think about your research in a new way. I can honestly say that every manuscript that I have published is better as the result of peer review. Treat the feedback that you have received as a valuable resource. Respond to the feedback thoroughly and thoughtfully. In many cases, doing so will strengthen your skills as a researcher, improve your manuscript, will put you closer an ultimate decision of “Accept,” and, most importantly, enhance the impact that your research has on the field.
Special thanks to Dr. Stacy-Ann January, Dr. Lyndsay Jenkins, and Dr. Renee Hawkins for their important contributions to this post.