A couple of years ago we published a blog of a roundtable between the editor and a group of CA scholars at Linköping University, discussing ROLSI’s editorial practices. One of those researchers, Professor Leelo Keevallik, is now the Associate Editor of the journal, and she and I are very pleased to revisit some of those issues. We’re very grateful indeed to Dr Marina Cantarutti, one of global CA’s most active and well-connected early career researchers, for posing us questions which will be of interest to all, but especially those who are submitting for the first time.
1. Marina Cantarutti (MC): What kind of feedback can I expect to receive from reviewers after I have submitted my article to the journal?
Charles Antaki and Leelo Keevallik (Eds): In a word, quite a lot and at various level of detail. As editors, we choose reviewers who are knowledgeable about the subject, and they send us back very generous and closely engaged reviews, which can cover many pages – it’s not unusual for the full set of reviewers comments to stretch 10 or more single spaced sheets. The comments will be generally about four things: the clarity with which the authors identify the phenomenon of the discussion; the novelty of the findings and the comprehensiveness with which they authors have integrated them into what we know about the issue; and, most importantly the sophistication and persuasiveness of the analysis.
2. MC: What are the steps to follow after a “revise and resubmit”?
Step 1 – Take a deep breath. You’re in, if only provisionally. Good.
Step 2 – Check whether the editors want minor, middling or major revisions. We put that right up front, so that you know in principle how much work you’re in for. Minor revisions at this stage are unusual, so what you’ll be asked to do will be something at least “middling” (that is, fairly substantial); and if it’s “major “, that will mean rolling your sleeves up and doing some significant work on the manuscript.
Step 3 – Read the editors’ decision letter; it will give you a pretty clear steer about the main topics emerging in the accompanying set of reviewers comments.
Step 4 – Read the reviewers’ comments carefully. ROLSI reviewers are always constructive, thoughtful and collegial; sometimes they will have things to say which may annoy, especially if they seem to have misunderstood what you said; if it gets too uncomfortable, leave it, and come back after you’re in a more conciliatory mood. (If there’s still something there which simply looks wrong or inappropriate, tell the editor so – see later).
3. MC: What would you say are the essential elements/components that a response to the reviewers after a request to “revise and resubmit” should have?
Eds.: Whatever the scale of the revision, it will help your case, and endear you to editor and reviewers, if you set out your changes in a covering letter point by point or comment by comment, responding separately to all reviewers. Some people like to do this very explicitly in a table – column one for the number of the point, column two for the manuscript page to which the reviewer’s comment refers, column three for a quote from the review which summarises the reviewer’s point, and column four for an account of the change you’ve made that addresses it. That format isn’t necessary, but certainly whatever format you use, those are the things you should include. A full account of all your changes may well extend to a dozen pages and, as always, don’t forget to acknowledge the hard work by the reviewers. Once in a while, you might even want to thank them personally in the final paper, which can be arranged at a later stage, should the reviewer consent to reveal their identity.
Oh, and if you really want to get into our good books, make a “show changes” version of the document and send that along with the clean one.
4. MC: How do I respond to a reviewer…
…who disagrees with the chosen method of analysis, or who shows little experience in the chosen methodology and the assumptions that underlie it?
Eds. – Unlikely to be a problem in ROLSI; but certainly this can happen in journals which are unused to interactional analysis. However, it is always advisable to make your theoretical assumptions explicit, so as to ease reading by as many people as possible.
… who misunderstood one of the key points?
Eds. – In the first revision, try to improve your writing, carefully considering what the reviewer understood wrong. If the problem persists after second review – say so to the editors. You are talking in the first instance to the editors, and they will be (comparatively) impartial, unless, in the covering letter, they have explicitly said that they agree with that part of the reviewer’s comments. If that is the case, then you may have a mountain to climb to persuade them. If not, then it’s a matter of making a good case and persuading the editors that you are right and the reviewer is wrong. It can happen.
… who suggests adding elements that if considered would lead to the paper exceeding the word limit?
Eds. – Again, say so. But, again, if it’s something that we wanted in the covering letter, you would be well advised to follow our advice (we will usually suggest sacrificing some other part of the manuscript.)
… who suggests the inclusion of elements in the literature that are irrelevant to the current analysis, or which oppose the perspective taken?
Eds. – Reconsider whether it is actually irrelevant, or would maybe make your case stronger and clearer (such as arguing for the merits of your perspective). If not, you would have a pretty good chance of arguing against that, unless the editors have backed the reviewer in the decision letter.
…who is spot-on a criticism that exposes one of the key findings as weak or untenable (and which requires admitting to a major weakness)?
Eds. – Be strong and admit it, the analysis needs a major recalibration. After all, your paper hasn’t been rejected; the editors would’ve given you a way to proceed.
5. MC: What is the right (discursive) way of announcing/accounting for the pushing back on a suggestion?
Eds.: Tact, collegiality, and a demonstration that you understand what the reviewer has said. They usually mean well, and may have misunderstood something, or just missed something on an earlier page, or whatever; appreciate what they have said, but give the editors reason to take your side rather than theirs. Often, you will find a reason to also build this “pushback” into your argument for your other readers.
6. MC: What are my chances of getting accepted if I stand my ground and push back on a number of key suggestions?
Eds.: It depends enormously on your powers of persuasion. Here especially our editorial covering letter is important: it will have laid out what are effectively the non-negotiables unless (as, admittedly, has occasionally happened!) we the editors, like the reviewers, have simply misunderstood something. But assuming that we haven’t, then we will be quite hard to shift, also because we would have chosen the best possible reviewers.
7. MC: How much of the paper should be changed in the light of the reviewer’s comments?
If I find new avenues of argument and analysis as a result of re-analysis or an enhanced lit review, to what extent can the new version stray away from the original as a result of addressing the comments?
Eds.: It’s quite unusual for a paper to change quite so radically as that, and if it does then both reviewers and the editors will pick it up in the next round of reviewing. In the more root and branch examples, we will ask for the paper to be sent in as a fresh submission and you will then receive three new reviewers that are fitted to the new analysis. But in the normal run of events, “minor” revision will mean light touches here and there, “middling” revision substantive changes to at least one section, and “major” changes re-thinking and re-writing significant passages throughout the paper. It is quite common that the paper changes substantially after a revision and reorganization, so that the document with “track changes” will be bursting with colour.
8. MC: Is my revision likely to be accepted? If not, what happens next?
Eds.: If the original submission had only needed minor revisions, success is probable; middling or major ones – no guarantee. Depending on how the reviews pan out, and what the editors make of them, you might either get rejected at that point, or asked for some further revision (which would usually be fairly minor). It’s the first revision which is the crucial, make-or-break one. But if you’ve approached it in good faith, thought through the reviews, made the changes and given a good account of what you’ve done (and not done), then the chances are pretty good- much better than evens. Go for it!