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I always try to do at least *something* to address whatever my referees' concerns are. Even the few times that I thought the comments were completely out to lunch, I tried to do something about it. Usually, if I don't think the concern is very apt, I just adjust my signposting and disclaimer-footnotes, and try to steer new readers away from making the same mistake the referee did.

When it's a concern that I think is apt, I obviously spend a lot more time trying to deal with it. Sometimes that means substantial re-writing, but usually it just means doing some frenzied research and drafting a few new paragraphs. Once I've addressed everything, I go back through the paper and systematically murder my darlings until I've cut it back to an appropriate size. I do this even if the revisions didn't put it over the word count (although in that case I'm obviously more generous about what I leave in!). If a new referee thinks I've omitted something important, it's really easy to reinstate the material (although it does mean doing some trimming elsewhere).

It's been paying off for me recently, and I can definitely say that over time, the resulting papers are *much* better than their previous iterations. And as hard as the cutting process is, it really helps me to a get a better idea of what's crucial to my paper, and what's not. And some of those cuttings make for decent paper topics in their own right!

But I'm one of those people for whom the writing emerges largely as a by-product of the editing process. I can't just sit down and dash off a usable manuscript, even if I've given it a lot of thought. I start with a skeleton, flesh it out, and take it apart and rebuild it ad infinitum.

anonymous TT prof

My advice is to mull it over for some time. Don't simply follow the reviewer's advice ... Rather, think about their reasons for giving that advice. If they made some stupid criticism, maybe it's because they misunderstood the general point of the paper. Or some other small point. Think about how to rewrite a bit to make sure it doesn't happen again. If they tell you to incorporate work by so-and-so, read that work and see if it's relevant. In my experience, most of the time it's not, but sometimes it really is the sort of thing that should be incorporated. It can be as easy as adding a "See Smith (2014) for a defense of this view" or it can mean rewriting a section of the paper to take into account some innovative work someone else has done.

If you find yourself tweaking here and there to the proclivities of the reviewer, or adding an entire section that someone else thought was necessary, then you are not doing it right. If you find yourself rewriting a section or two in response to some misunderstandings, or restructuring the paper to make the narrative more cohesive, you probably are doing it right.

Trevor Hedberg

Here are some general rules I've followed in this process (with short explanations):

1. When I get a detailed list of comments, I read them immediately and then stow them away for at least a week. Then I reread them and decide what to do with them. When we first get comments -- especially when we get rejected -- we are often frustrated or disappointed. That's not a good state of mind to evaluate the comments objectively. I have found it helpful to let those feelings pass and kick around the ideas for a while before making any decisions about what to do.

2. If I genuinely believe the reviewer has found a significant weakness in the paper, I make a change. I'd feel intellectually irresponsible if I deliberately resubmitted a paper that contained a glaring weakness in the argument that I knew about.

3. If I am unsure whether a single reviewer's comments have merit, then I generally don't make the suggested changes unless they're very minor.

4. If multiple reviewers find a problem with the same portion of the paper, I change that portion of the paper. I have actually had this happen many times. Usually, the reviewers have different suggestions for the paper but agree that there's a specific problem that needs to be fixed.

5. I generally don't expand a paper when I revise it after rejection. I trim certain sections to expand others or retool already existing sections. Usually, I already have a list of potential venues for the paper and have a word limit I'm working with. Massive expansion to the word count is something I only undertake when I have an R&R in hand.


Thanks to everyone who has offered feedback. I think I might try responding to more comments than I have in the past (while not overdoing it, of course).

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