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Marc Abernathy | Don’t know how to write a revise-and-resubmit response letter? This article will show you how.
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Don’t know how to write a revise-and-resubmit response letter? This article will show you how.

At all costs, avoid another review round. That goal should motivate every aspect of your point-by-point response letter. This article shows you how to structure, format, and write one that convinces an editor to publish your paper and not send it out for another review round.

 

*This article is the second of a two-part “Better letters” series. This article focuses on writing response letters to accompany revised papers being re-submitted. The first focuses on cover letters for initial submissions to academic journals.

 

The objective of an initial cover letter is to position your paper and “sell” it to the editor as strongly as possible. In this initial letter, you decide what to emphasize and how to present your research. Your objective changes in a revise-and-resubmit response letter: instead of positioning, you are responding; instead of packaging and selling, you are persuasively arguing and defending.

These five steps will help you write a revise-and-resubmit response letter that convinces and persuades.

  1. Leave nothing out
  2. Give thanks
  3. You’re right, so we did this…
  4. We don’t agree; here’s why…
  5. Check your language, cool your tone

 

  1. Leave nothing out

Rule number one is to always respond. Never ignore a comment. To respond convincingly, though, first understand precisely what the editor and reviewers are saying. Don’t not respond because something isn’t clear. On a separate sheet of paper, paraphrase in your own words each comment or question and write out your response. This approach ensures that even if the comment was unclear, both the editor and reviewer will acknowledge that you have tried to address their concerns.

 

Useful language

 

                              If we understand you correctly, your comment is about…

                              We interpret your question as a criticism of…

 

 

  1. Give thanks

Thank the editor and reviewers for each comment, giving a genuine reason why you are grateful. It’s not easy reading criticism of your work, but it’s helpful to acknowledge the time, effort, and consideration of editors and reviewers by identifying one thing about their comment that was helpful.

 

Useful language

 

Thank you for this important set of questions and comments. They helped us see that our explanation of our methods was not clearly explained in our previous submission.

——–

We appreciate your questions, which alerted us to concerns about the arguments in our previous version…

 

 

  1. You’re right, so we did this…

If you agree with the editor’s or reviewer’s comment, say so and explain what you did in response. Did you read additional papers to see where your research fits into the literature? rethink and revise your theory, motivation, or hypotheses? do additional analyses, and then rewrite sections of your paper? Outline all these steps in your letter, detailing how you responded. This detail shows the editor that you took the comments seriously and made specific changes as a result. The key is to describe all the steps you took so they can follow exactly what you did and what you changed.

 

Useful language

 

Our first step was to differentiate how international alliance formation changes when firms are aligned with foreign or domestic SMEs. What we found when differentiating in this way is that…

Next, we carried out a Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, which showed that…

 

Tell the editor and reviewers where they can find the revised text: either by line number, page and paragraph number, or page range:

 

To address this question, we clarified on page <X> how we define start-ups in our study.

———-

In lines <XXX> to <XXX>, you will see how we revised the theory development…

———-

Our revised hypotheses are on lines <XXX> to <XXX>. Specifically, what changed from the previous version and this version is…

 

In my experience editing response letters for my clients, many editors and reviewers ask authors about their contribution—specifically, to clarify and explicitly state it. Sometimes authors make a better case for their contribution in the response letter than they do in the paper. Compare your response letter with your paper. Which one does a better job of clarifying the contribution? If it’s the letter, revise the paper to match.

 

 

 

  1. We don’t agree; here’s why

If you disagree with the editor or a reviewer, state specifically why, putting the strongest argument first, the next-strongest argument next, and so on. Build a case, with each step in your argument linked to the next step that supports it. Don’t disagree too much, though, or you risk a flat-out rejection.

 

Useful language

 

We carefully considered you question, but in the end decided not to define the start-ups in our study because…

 

  1. Check your language, cool your tone

Response letters need to be professional and unemotional. At times, though, you need to assertively and respectfully disagree. The decision to reject an editor’s or reviewer’s comment is a balancing act involving careful consideration and compromise. The reviewer may have gotten it wrong or might have not understood your intentions. Or, she may simply have a different (and equally valid) perspective. The question is, Do you concede a reviewer’s point and revise your paper in the hopes of getting your paper published or defend your position? Whatever you do, justify why. Your response should be a respectful conversation or debate with colleagues, not a fight to prove how right you are and wrong they are. In academia, criticism is built-in to the system. Stay open and don’t burn critical bridges.

 

 

For first-time writers: What is a point-by-point response? A step-by-step guide to formatting and writing one

 

A point-by-point response is a letter responding to comments from the editor(s) and reviewers. The first step in writing one is to format it. To do this, copy and paste the original letter into a new document and break it into sections of related comments and feedback. Find, for instance, a stretch of text talking just about the theory.

 

Example of a section of related editor’s comments:

 

There are three major concerns that will need to be addressed in a revision. First, the current manuscript falls short of making a strong theoretical contribution…These are, of course, just suggestions and how you proceed with strengthening your theoretical contribution will depend on the literature to which you hope to contribute and the data that you have. Second, we have numerous concerns with the current hypotheses.

 

In this example, the editor has made the author’s job of breaking the response letter text into sections easier by including “first,” “second,” and so on. If an editor or reviewer doesn’t use such signal words, you might need to spend more time deciding where one set of ideas ends and another begins. For this response, break up the text as follows:

 

There are three major concerns that will need to be addressed in a revision.

 

First, the current manuscript falls short of making a strong theoretical contribution…These are, of course, just suggestions and how you proceed with strengthening your theoretical contribution will depend on the literature to which you hope to contribute and the data that you have.

 

Second, we have numerous concerns with the current hypotheses.

 

Assign each section an “E” or “R” letter to indicate whether the set of comments is from the editor or reviewers and then add a number, starting with “1” for the first set of comments and continue sequentially (“E.1.”, “E.2.”, etc.).

 

There are three major concerns that will need to be addressed in a revision.

 

E.1.First, the current manuscript falls short of making a strong theoretical contribution…These are, of course, just suggestions and how you proceed with strengthening your theoretical contribution will depend on the literature to which you hope to contribute and the data that you have.

 

E.2.Second, we have numerous concerns with the current hypotheses…

 

Write your response using a similar lettering and numbering system after each set of related comments. Distinguish your responses from the editor’s and reviewers’ comments using different font styles or different font colors and specify where in the text you made changes.

 

There are three major concerns that will need to be addressed in a revision.

 

E.1.First, the current manuscript falls short of making a strong theoretical contribution…These are, of course, just suggestions and how you proceed with strengthening your theoretical contribution will depend on the literature to which you hope to contribute and the data that you have.

 

Response E.1.Thank you for this important comment. In order to strengthen our theoretical contribution, we took a number of steps…

 

E.2.Second, we have numerous concerns with the current hypotheses.

 

Response E.2.Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to clarify the reasoning leading to our hypotheses. Below, we separately address each of the comments …

 

The formatting steps described above are the minimum you need to do for a point-by-point response. For most researchers, this will be enough. If you want to be more thorough, you might use a technique one of my clients does, which I find particularly thorough. He writes a general summary response on the first page highlighting how he and his co-authors have revised their paper based on the editor’s and reviewers’ comments. Note the summary sentence, with a specific number, the numbering, and bolded subheadings.

 

Below, we highlight the most important changes we have made:

 

  • Theoretical framing and contribution: We strengthened and clarified the theoretical contribution of our manuscript by explaining how and why it substantially expands experiential learning theories (responses E.1., R.1.1, R.2.1)
  • Hypotheses: Following the advice provided by the Editor (E.2), we addressed the concerns related to our hypotheses raised by Reviewers 1 and 2. Specifically,…
  • Analysis: We provide the requested information on turnover (responses E.3.1, R.1.4), the nature and measurement of key variables (e.g.,…

My client also breaks up responses on certain aspects of the paper (e.g., theory) into sub-responses, each with their own separate number: in a three-part response, to a comment from the editor (E.1.), he separates out each response (i.e., third response is “Response E.1.3.”) with a sub-heading title (“Why focus on how the social context affects employee learning from failure?”) to specific editor and reviewer concerns:

 

Response E.1.3: Why focus on how the social context affects employee learning from failure?

 

In the revised manuscript (p. XX), we explain that psychological safety and TMS have traditionally been studied as antecedents of team learning…

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