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07/22/2020

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Nicolas Delon

I'm not an editor but I've refereed quite a bit recently, including a number of revisions. I'd be upset if I were asked to review revisions along with a 23-page reply. Referees need to be able to know quickly if authors have addressed their main concerns and made changes. So I'm not surprised by the journal editor's comment. Editors are extremely busy; if I were an editor I certainly would not want to receive replies that are almost as long as a revised article, possibly several a day in addition to new manuscripts.

My $.02

Wear 'em down re-redux

A few more cents:

First, if journal editors really wanted to make reply letters shorter, they could just specify that in their decision letters. Journals have word limits for manuscripts, so why not for replies? To the extent that this is a real problem, it has a very obvious solution.

That being said, I can't imagine that having such a policy would reflect well on a journal. High volumes of submissions and overworked editors notwithstanding, isn't it more important that the review process is rigorous than that it's quick and easy for reviewers and editors? If your journal's peer review process is based around the principle of "we are all busy and would rather not spend too much time reading stuff," then you probably don't have a very good review process.

Also, note that many journals have very high desk rejection rates precisely because they are trying to cut down on the number of papers that go through the (lengthy and rigorous) peer review process. If a paper makes it past the desk rejection stage, and then also past a first round of reviews, then clearly it must be worth spending a little more time on. So, overworked editors and reviewers notwithstanding, it seems perfectly reasonable to allow authors to give thorough replies to reviewer reports.

Finally, to reiterate a point from the other thread: if editors want authors to focus their reviews on specific aspects of the referee reports and ignore others, they can say so in their decision letters! This seems especially important if the reviews are rather lengthy. Editors can use their discretion to direct authors towards the referee concerns that they think are most important. Editors need not (indeed, should not) be entirely passive in the review process, and they can actively influence the content of the author reply letters they receive.

an editor ... again

To be clear, this request for under two pages of explanation is not just a matter of time (but of course time counts). The editor wants to know that the author understands what is important and what is not.
Another, only tangentially related point, all of this is discipline/field specific. I was on the editorial board of a science journal for 6 or 7 years. The authors were required to send in a document tracking ALL changes made to the manuscript, as well as the final manuscript, and an account of the way in which they addressed the referees' reports. The documents could run well over 100 pages, especially with all the figures. But we also had a team of experts to check the statistical analyses.

JDF

I also have had much more success writing longer author's guides to revision. One thing about them is that they makes it less necessary for the referee to re-read the entire paper. So, if you say:

'Referee 1 has the following objection: [block quote from referee report]. I think that my original essay was unclear on this point in a way which had left the referee to misread me. I had meant to say blah, but I see that putting it as I did led the referee to think I was saying bleh. Blah is not subject to the objection because it differs from bleh in such-and-such respects. I've now altered the manuscript in the following way: [block quote from revised manuscript]'. I hope it is clearer now that I mean blah, and I hope the footnote added is enough to show why blah is not subject to the objection which dooms bleh. Thanks very much to the referee for helping me see these issues.'

The referee really does not need to read the manuscript in full in anything like the detail that they (should have) read it the first time. They have everything in hand to decide whether the changes adequately address the issue. Repeat X times for the X number of changes requested by the referees and you have a long report.

Mike

It is possible to both show you understand what's important, and to reply point-by-point. I usually start off with a summary addressing what's important, then go point-by-point.

Overall, I agree with Wear 'em down re-redux.

Trevor Hedberg

I've always been successful with R&Rs and have always included a point-by-point breakdown of each major change I made (and what the requested change was). But it's definitely possible to do this and still be concise. I view the purpose of this document to enable the editor to identify where the changes in your paper are and what reviewer concern they address, so it's mostly just summary and sign-posting. They don't need to be super-long to fulfill this purpose.

Nicolas Delon

To clarify: I think detailed replies to editors/referees are good practice, and I do them too. I just think a 23-page single spaced is over the top. I guess it might be warranted in some special circumstances but the more the better is not the right heuristic here. I've also had success with relatively succinct replies.

Tim

I also normally use long responses to referee reports. However, I have begun splitting mine into two parts: "Major Issues and Revisions" and "Minor Issues and Revisions." I think this is an effective way to communicate what issues/changes I think as important. I normally do not quote from reviewers but summarize in my own way (though I cite page numbers from the reports). This also allows me to quickly say things like "Reviewers 1 and 3 both raise issues about..." And I also use block quotation to indicate changes.

I guess I have always assumed that editors (and potentially reviewers) just wouldn't re-read my manuscript. Rather, they would just read the changes I have included in the report. That's one reason why I thought it might be ok to submit a 7 page response, for instance. But perhaps this assumption is false.

historygrrrl

Like Mike and Tim, I've started splitting my responses into parts. I want to be thorough, but also make things easy for editors.

Something like:
1. Summary of Major Changes: Narrative explanation of how I fixed stuff like structural issues, perceived holes in the argument, and so on.

2. Listing of major changes: More detailed listing of pages, paragraphs, and so on, and how the changes respond to reviewer comments

3. Minor changes: Places where I've added references, made minor additions or cuts, or fixed typos.

Basically, the editor could get the gist if they just read 1. Which is usually short - like a page or two.

Fool

I've done some associate editing work.
I wouldn't want the response to reviewer to be more than 1 or 2 pages. It's best if it just says broadly what Kind of changes have been made, so that I know what I'm looking out for when I reread the new submission.
I re-read the whole thing and assess whether it Now works after the changes have been made. I can't imagine editors just reading the response to reviewers and not rereading the whole paper. But if this is what's normal elsewhere, this might explain why so many published papers read like frankenstein's-monster piles of disconnected points and objections.
Surely after an R&R editors are meant to be assessing "A New Submission" rather than "The Changes The Author Made." It seems like confusion between these two objects of attention is at the heart of any disagreements above. Journals can help here by being more explicit about what they're actually reviewing at stage two.

In my own experience, every R&R I've ever had has been published upon revision and I've never written more than 2 pages of gloss to my changes.

an editor

There is a misconception in some of the comments here. Editors - at least this editor - does not just review the comments from the author on how they changed the paper, check those parts of the paper, and then decided whether to publish it. When a paper comes in as an R&R it is given a lot of attention, and read from start to finish.. Now the journal editor is seriously considering publishing the paper. The editor - this one at least - is concerned about the quality of the journal, and the papers in it. So do not think that the replies by the author are more important than the whole manuscript itself.

JDF

I think that there is a bit of cross-talk between myself and others on one side and 'fool' and 'an editor' on the other. My sense, at least, is that REFEREES benefit from the long guide to revision, and my experience is that they are the primary barrier to publication. They are the ones who need not re-read the essay in full if you summarize/quote their objection, explain your response, and paste the added/altered text in the revision guide.

Perhaps sometimes editors reject even when all referees recommend acceptance, and perhaps sometimes editors accept when at least one referee recommends rejection. It seems more common, though, for editors to accept only if all referees are positive. So a lot of us are writing to appease referees first, and we have independently hit on long revision reports as a strategy which seems to work. It is unfortunate if that strategy annoys editors, but given the seeming need to get an okay from the referees first before an editorial okay is possible, it is hard to change the strategy which seems to be working with them.

an editor

My sense is that with some R&Rs, the decision about the revision is made by the editor alone. I gather this from my own experience with one of the big four M&E/general phil journals. I submitted a revision manuscript, and it was accepted the next day. So long notes on revisions may be superfluous.

referee

Not an editor, but a referee:

I don't mind detailed explanations of revisions so long as a) there is a summary at the beginning, b) it's divided into major and minor revisions, and c) there aren't long passages cut and pasted from the paper into the explanations. Simply describe the change and direct me to it. Don't describe it and then reproduce it.

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