Major Revision? It’s NOT a bad decision!

I’ll be very honest here. It sucks to get a Major Revision (or Revise and Resubmit) on any manuscript. It really does! An optimist would say that its better than an outright Reject. That’s true but the amount/nature of work a major revision can entail is usually unpredictable. Also, by the time you get the reviews back, you’ve probably moved on to something more interesting. You are then dragged back in time where the first task is to locate the files you used to create the final version manuscript in the first place. Its horrible. Add to that, you can be given anything between a month to six months to make the revisions and submit it.

So what should you do when you receive that long e-mail full of hurtful comments asking you to make major changes to the manuscript?

Well, to start with, if you’re having thoughts of not revising it then get rid of them. The fact that your paper wasn’t rejected indicates that there is some merit in it and is a very very small acknowledgement of your work. Following that, take time in reading the comments. There is no hurry. In fact the first couple of times you read the comments you’ll be pretty pissed and think that the reviewer is either crazy, being mean or just doesn’t understand your work. Either can be true, of course. But when two or three reviewers are raising some points then be open to accept that there is something that needs attention. What I have started doing now is to read the comments quickly and then forget about it for a day. This is because my first reaction to comments is always clouded by the disappointment in getting a major revision. The trick here is to read them objectively, without any emotion. This is hard too, because you’re almost always emotionally attached to your work. In your mind, your research is great and you just see the positives in it. But whether you have expressed it in the same way as it is in your head is always a big question mark.

I really cannot stress how important it is to read the comments over and over again to understand what they exactly ask of you. I once prepared a detailed reply to a comment only to realise later that I misunderstood it. Some comments may even sound mean or dumb. But think about it, what if the reviewer is asking something only out of curiousity? Something that will add value to your paper, making it more informative to the reader? Just because you understand your paper doesn’t mean anyone who reads it will understand it. Also, the reviewer doesn’t have anything personal against you. Even if he or she does, you can’t really find it out!

Having said that, try to address ALL of the issues raised by the reviewers. Unless you have a very strong reason not to do so, and the reason should be sufficiently explained, just make the changes that they have asked for. It may change the outlook of the paper somewhat, and probably, for better. Also, it is likely that the same reviewers will have a look at your revisions so if you do make the changes based on their suggestions they will be happy to let it through – unless there is something wrong.

Finally, it may turn out that only one of the reviewers think your manuscript needs a major revision while others consider it close to being ready for publication. From my experience, you can tell that from the tone of the comments made by each of the reviewer. This will help in estimating the time needed to make the changes. If they are minor then they don’t warrant spending a lot of time. Most journals will assign a decision of major revision if at least one of the reviewers think that major work is needed (this link gives a good idea about how the final decision is made). So if you think only one of the reviewer may have given you a major revision then you’re pretty close to crossing the line. Even if not, there is no reason to be disappointed because you already have a foot in the door and all you need is a little bit of motivation to make the required changes.

I know…easier said than done.

In the next post, I will write about the strategy I follow in tacking a major revision.

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