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BITC: Publication Class -- 11. Response to Reviews

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Okay, you've now written your paper. Prepared it. Edited it. Cleaned it. You've submitted it to the journal. The journal editor considered it and sent it out for review. The journal editor got reviews back and sends you a response. This is one of the least known parts of the process because not all of us know what to do when we get these responses back. I'm going to give you some examples and some illustrations. To me, the way you should manage this process is to think about having your hand full of coins. If you're able to say to the editor, 'Oh yes, that's a good point - corrected. Oh yes, that's a good point - corrected.' If you're able to do that, you don't spend any coins. But if some reviewer says, 'I strongly disagree with this. The authors are wrong. They need to correct this or the paper isn't publishable.' If you disagree with the reviewer and cannot accept that assertion, then you're going to spend some of those coins. If you spend so many of those coins that your hand is empty, then the editor is going to end up rejecting your paper. So, how do we manage this process as positively as possible? The first step in the process is to understand the editor's response. This can be difficult. When I was publishing my doctoral dissertation, I got a letter back from an editor. I read it a little too quickly. But I read it and I thought that my manuscript was rejected. And, I filed the manuscript away and thought, 'I'll with it some other day.' Then, I was in a colleague's office and I saw exactly the same letters sitting on his desk. And,I asked him about it and he said, 'Oh yeah, that journal sent me that response. I made a few corrections and they accepted it.' And so I went back to my file cabinet. I pulled out that same letter from the same editor. I made a few corrections. And the editor accepted the paper. So, this is a first step where you have to understand what it is the editor is saying to you. 'Thank you very much for subimtting your manuscript to <i>Ecology</i>. The reviewers and I appreciated the work you've accomplished. Based on the reviews, we will not be able to accept this manuscript for publication.' That sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? But then is says, '...at this time.' Ah hah! 'We would be willing to consider a much revised version...' There the doors open. '...based on the review comments.' Okay. What the editor is saying is, If you keep it the way it is, I'm not accepting this paper. But, if you can make some concessions to the reviewer, if you can learn some lessons from these other smart people who were reading your manuscript, then the editor is open to the idea of accepting the manuscript. So, you need to read that letter very carefully and understand what it means. Here are some generalities. When responding to reviewers, say 'OK' whenever you can. Say 'yes.' Say 'I accept.' Say 'done.' When you can't say 'okay', try your best to be reasonable. Try to make some changes. Try to meet them in the middle. When you really disagree, you have to give a good, clear reason as to <i>why</i> you really disagree. But remember, here and to a lesser degree here, you're spending those coins that you have in your hand. Strategically, you have to remember something. Finding reviewers is one of the hardest tasks that an editor has. The editor may have 20 papers sitting on his or her desk and has to find 2 or 3 reviewers to give smart, informed opinions about each of those papers. Those reviews may take 2 or 3 or 5 or 10 hours of the reviewers’ time. So, this is not an easy task. You need to be agreeable enough with the editor, and be clear enough when you disagree, that the editor says, 'Okay, this author really responded cogently and intelligently to the reviews. I'm not going to go back through this process of finding reviewers. Instead, I will accept the paper without further review.' That's what you're after. That's your goal in responding to the reviews. I like to be very, very clear when responding to reviews. I take the document that the editor sends me from the reviewers and I itemize it. The reviewer says, 'offer a bridge across scales' in line 28.' Statement is not explained or supported - should be removed. The ideal is that I say, 'Done.' Same here. Sometimes the reviewers give you more general comments. 'The paper is very long relative to the point it makes. Sections could be shortened (misspelled) considerably. This section could be much shorter.' Here, I can't just say 'done' because I need to give the editor some detail as to how I did it. So I say, 'the manuscript has been shortened quite a bit with two major sections removed or shortened.' Again, this is the ideal set of responses. I don't spend any of those coins in my hand making these responses because I'm just saying, 'Okay, the reviewer had a very good point. I took it into account and I responded in this way.' Sometimes, however, you disagree. That happens. We're all smart people. The reviewers are smart. You're smart. It doesn't mean you agree. When you disagree, you need to be very clear and very explanatory about why. Here, for the same manuscript, we get a long paragraph that my co-author and I disagreed with quite a bit. And so, we outlined very clearly that, 'the reviewer is basically criticizing us on the basis that we have neglected what we consider to be the main point of the paper.' We just spent some coins. OK? We're clearly am going to disagree with the reviewer about this. This might be the worst thing we can do because we basically say that we do not see a way of fixing the manuscript to this end because it's already our main point. What we're saying is, were not going to do anything in response to this comment. That's bad. You spend coins for that. Much better would be to find a way to say, 'In response to the reviewer's comment, we edited this paragraph in this way' trying to find some common ground. That would spend fewer coins. Here's another example of this kind of conflicted response. The editor says, 'there's been quit a lot of literature recently questioning how adequate a statistic AUC is for testing goodness of fit.' (You can go to another part of the Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum for a module on exactly that subject.) Our response is that 'the reviewer and the editor are quite correct. Recent papers have criticized the use of AUC for this sort of exercise.' But, we go on to say, 'indeed, four of the authors of this manuscript were authors on two of the major papers criticizing that technique.' Which is to say, we understand. Okay? We understand. We agree. And, we see our manuscript, as it stands, as sufficient. But, notice that it took three paragraphs to develop this justification. You're spending coins out of your hand. It would have been better to find a way to say, 'we see that the wording could have been misinterpreted, and so we've adjusted the wording here, here, and here.' Or, 'we've added something...' Or 'we've adjusted...' But, find some way of saying that you responded positively.

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Duration: 9 minutes and 5 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

Publication Class: How to Publish a Scientific Paper

A. Townsend Peterson, University of Kansas
In English

Academic productivity and effective communication of research results depend critically on publishing scientific articles in scholarly journals. This set of 13 video segments aims to provide an overview of the entire publishing process. It is not specific to biodiversity informatics, but rather can be quite general for the natural sciences at least.

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