|Prof Sally Sheldon|
The first step, when you receive the reviews, is to take a deep breath. Read them carefully and be honest with yourself about whether the criticisms are well-grounded. If you're not sure, share them with a colleague. Sally gave the example of a review she received early in her career that described an article she'd written as ‘boring, derivative and inordinately over long’. At the time she didn't have the self-confidence to question it, or even to seek an objective view. She hid it in a bottom drawer, and only years later was able to face it again.
Once you've had time to think about it, you can do one of three things:
- If the comments are unhelpful or misguided, and by adopting them would change your work substantially, unnecessarily and harmfully, either:
- consider submitting elsewhere;
- or talk to editor. They are, after all, academics like you, and might understand that such changes would be detrimental to the article;
- Alternatively, if the changes are reasonable, take them on board.
If you are going to do the latter, make sure that you:
- Show that you’ve made an attempt to respond to a comment in good faith. Make a substantive change to reflect it, revise language to ensure clarity, or add a footnote or a reference that shows you have taken the comment seriously.
- Respond to each point in turn, logically and systematically, breaking down your response
Sally's response to reviewers
- Be courteous, clear and straightforward, and say that you're grateful for ‘helpful’ suggestions.
Such a revised and well-framed response is quite hard for editors to turn down. However, make sure that you:
- Dont' make changes that seem damaging: the paper will have your name on it and be around for longer than you are;
- Don't take is too personally. Remember Sally's 'boring, derivative and inordinately long' article? Putting it away didn't help her, or the potential beneficiaries of the research. Get a second opinion, consider revising it, or submitting it elsewhere.
- Don't sound off about the referees in the response. Editors can spot rogue reviews and if they believed that here was a problem with the feedback, they could have intervened, edited or just not sent it. A careful, courteous, professional response is a far more effective way of highlighting the opposite qualities on a poor review.