From the Editor
Very rarely is a manuscript accepted outright or with only minimal changes requested. So, expecting an "accept" based on the initial round of reviews can only lead to disappointment. Of course, it's possible that the manuscript has been rejected. In this case, one licks his or her wounds and takes solace in the fact that everyone who tries to publish has had manuscripts rejected. Once getting over the disappointment, it's often helpful to use the reviewers' comments to revise the manuscript and consider submitting it to a journal that may be a more appropriate match for the manuscript.
If all goes well, the email invites one to revise and resubmit the manuscript. Although new authors may view this as disappointing news, this decision should be viewed positively because the editor and associate editor are expressing an interest in potentially publishing the manuscript.
Of course, the next step is to read the specific comments from the editor, associate editor, and reviewers. Admittedly, the author rarely agrees with the critique in total. Reading about how one's manuscript needs to be improved can be painful (even when the reviewers have tried to be helpful). Personally, I give myself 24 hours to "get over" the comments. Once the day is up, I move on and recognize that revising the manuscript in response to the review will result in a better paper. But how does one decide to respond? Often, reviews are lengthy and contain numerous comments from the reviewers.
In theory, the editor and associate editor have provided the author with guidance on how to make the manuscript publishable by highlighting the key issues that need to be addressed. That is, not all reviewers' comments are equal, and the editor and associate editor should help the author identify the critical issues that need to be attended to in the next version of the manuscript. The author then decides whether he or she agrees with the recommendations and either makes changes to the manuscript in accordance with the comments or provides a strong justification for why a particular recommendation was not followed. In most cases, it is best to revise the manuscript in keeping with the comments, at least to some degree, unless there is no compelling reason to do so.
After the key issues identified by the editor and associate editor have been addressed, the author is left with the remaining comments provided by the reviewers, which may be pages long. In their comments, the editor and associate editor often indicate that the author should refer to the comments of the reviewers. So, now how does the author respond? Often, authors believe that they need to respond to each and every comment; however, this is not the case. The author can evaluate the individual comments and decide which comments require attention and which will not make a meaningful difference to the paper (Cummins & Rivera, 2002). When I revise my own papers, I attempt to make most of the reviewers' requested changes in my paper, but I do not necessarily respond to all. That is fine, as the editor has guided me to the critical points that need to be addressed.
Once the author has revised his or her manuscript based on the review, it is time to resubmit the manuscript. At this point, it is critical that the author include a cover letter that outlines the changes that were made in response to the review. But, how detailed should the letter be? As editor, I have seen cover letters that are a half page or less that provide me with little information about how the author has responded. I have also seen cover letters that are 14 pages or more, in which the author has provided a response for every point raised by the editor, associate editor, and each of the reviewers. This provides me with too much information. Although some journals in other fields have adopted this practice, I find extremely lengthy letters unhelpful to both the author and the editorial team. Such letters must take authors inordinate amounts of time to write. I prefer to see authors put this time into improving the manuscript. As a reader of those letters, I get lost in the details and lose sight of the truly substantive changes that were made. I confess I am tired of reading a series of "we agree" responses to individual reviewer comments.
When submitting a cover letter, I recommend that authors focus on the substantive changes that were made to the manuscript, as suggested by the editor and/or associate editor. When making these comments, it is preferable to provide a brief summary of the concern that was raised and then follow with a brief discussion of how the manuscript was revised in response (Agarwal, Echambadi, Franco, & Sarkar, 2006). Simply cutting and pasting comments from the review is not particularly helpful as reviewers may have raised similar points but may have stated their point in a slightly different manner. By summarizing the concern raised in the review, a single issue can be addressed more efficiently.
Also, substantive changes that are raised by the reviewers, but not necessarily highlighted by the editor or associate editor, should be addressed in the cover letter as well and in a similar fashion as described above. Sometimes it is helpful to indicate the page number and paragraph where a change was made, but this is not needed for every point. Please note that highlighting the changed text in some way in the manuscript is not particularly helpful. When I am reviewing the next version of the manuscript, I am reading to evaluate the content of the entire manuscript and not line-by-line. Also, if the manuscript is ready to be accepted for publication, the highlighted text can delay the process, as I either need to send the manuscript back to the author to remove the highlighted text or send the manuscript onto the production team, who will need to change this text. In either case, the time to publication is lengthened.
When organizing the cover letter, my personal preference is for authors to present their revisions section by section, beginning with the most substantive changes to that section. That is, changes made to the literature review should be discussed first followed by changes to the method, results, and discussion sections. Authors can indicate that they responded to the point-by-point editorial suggestions (e.g., on page 12, paragraph 2, line 10, change "in" to "on") in a general statement at the end of the letter.
Once the editor receives the revised manuscript, the new version undergoes another round of review. Unfortunately, it is possible that the manuscript may be rejected at this point. This occurs when the editor believes that the authors will not be able to respond satisfactorily to the major comments raised in the review. For example, additional information about the method may have been requested in the initial review. Although the revision provided the requested information, this addition reveals a fatal flaw that cannot be corrected and prohibits publication. Other times, the manuscript is accepted. Most commonly, another revision (or two) is needed and the process repeats itself. But in the end, the benefits are reaped and the process results in a high-quality article that makes a meaningful contribution to the research literature.