Months after submitting your manuscript to a journal for publication, you finally get an e-mail from them with a decision. If you’ve done good work and were careful in your review process, then the typical answer would be “accept after revisions.”  For instructions on how to prepare a manuscript for publication, please refer to our previous articles. However, there are times when you are asked to complete additional experiments, or worse, get outright rejected. In this blog, we’ll describe what to expect in the review process and how to handle reviewers’ comments.

What to Expect after Submission

The typical response time from a journal can vary anywhere between 2 – 6 months. That said, for journals where you have to pay to submit, the process is usually expedited so that authors will hear back within only a month. You will have to check the wait times with the actual journals.

Unless your piece of work is flawless and your paper is accepted without a need for any revisions (in which case, congratulations!), the three main outcomes for your submissions are rejection, major revisions required, or accepted after minor revisions.

Rejection

Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your research work is inadequate. Most of the time, a journal rejects your work because the research does not fit the scope of the journal. For instance, if your research work was intended for a clinical audience, but you submitted it to a journal that primarily publishes for a chemistry audience, then you would be rejected. In other cases, the depth of work that you’ve submitted does not match the journal’s requirements. Higher impact journals have more stringent review processes and expect more breadth and depth of the experiments that have to be conducted. Incomplete statistical analysis, lack of positive and negative controls, and poor experimental designs are some of the common reasons for rejections.  

Whenever you get a rejection, take some time to read and reflect on the reasons given by the editors and reviewers as constructive criticisms. Try your best to address those concerns, whether it be in re-writing parts of your manuscript or conducting a few additional experiments. Remember that failures, although painful, are a great way for you to learn more about the process and improve your future research work. After you’ve addressed the reasons for rejections, consider resubmission to another journal.

Major and Minor Revisions

In most situations, you will be asked to revise your work with either minor or major revisions. In the best-case scenario, you don’t have to do additional experiments, and a few extra paragraphs in the discussion to address the reviewers’ concerns are all it takes to get the paper accepted. However, there are circumstances where the reviewers will request some additional experiments, but if you’re persuasive with your explanations and justifications, then you may be able to avoid the extra work.

The key to effectively responding to the reviewers’ comments is to be objective, concise, and address as many of their concerns as possible. Support as much of your rationale and rebuttal with scientific evidence and logical reasoning. There are situations where reviewers can be stubborn (and wrong), in which case, politely and respectfully disagree with their comments with justifications of your own. It is the journal’s editor, not the reviewers, that will have the final say whether your paper will get accepted, and they can often sense when reviewers are unreasonable.  To help you answer the reviewers’ comments in your paper, we’re sharing an outline that we ourselves use in the review process:

Response to Reviewer’s comments

[Title of manuscript]

(Ms. No. [Manuscript code])

 

Dear [Name of editor],

 

Please see our itemized response to each comment made in reference to our manuscript. All our responses to the Reviewer’s comments are in bold font, and the changes that we made to the manuscript are in red italicized font.

 

Reviewer #1:

[Copy and paste Reviewer’s comments. Try to separate them into as many points as possible and reply to each point]

If you agree with a reviewer: Thank you … we agree … we’ve made the following changes

If you disagree with a reviewer: Thank you … we respectfully disagree … because

 

Identify which changes you have made, if any, to the original manuscript. Any changes to the manuscript should be in red italicized font.

           

Do not be discouraged with negative reviews or rejections - it happens more often than not and are great opportunities for you to become a better researcher. Constructive criticisms and feedback challenge the integrity of your research work and are part of a healthy peer-review process. So take the reviewers’ comments as an opportunity to strengthen your paper and learn from your mistakes to avoid making them in future projects. If you need more help with responding to reviewers, please contact Sengi. 

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The Sengi team is led by Dr. Brad Hall, a vision scientist and expert medical writer. A regular peer reviewer for several medical and ophthalmology journals, Dr. Hall has authored a multitude of articles personally, is a successful grant writer, medical writer, and master of the art of simplifying data and statistical analysis. Since launching in 2015, Sengi has provided medical writing and biostatistics analysis expertise to SMBs and researchers around the world that lacked the necessary means to share their scientific breakthroughs outside of the lab. Sengi’s work has enabled these companies to put advanced technology into the hands of those who need them most.