Image Credit: Bala Sivakumar
Image Credit: Bala Sivakumar

Sometimes all a scholarly manuscript needs to be ready for publication is a little R&R. No, we’re not referring to rest and relaxation (though many researchers could use it!) —we’re talking about a “Revise and Resubmit” request.

For both authors and editors, R&Rs can feel like a hurdle in the publishing process, signaling another round of peer review to come, and bringing with it more opportunities for reviewers to disagree on the best way a manuscript should be shaped. When handled well, however, R&Rs don’t have to be painful for authors or cause lengthy holdups in your publishing process.

Below are some tips for editors to make the R&R process a little easier:

Address contradictory reviewer feedback and offer authors guidance for revision

As an editor you know that peer reviews come in many shapes and forms. Sometimes your reviewers will submit clear and actionable feedback that you can simply pass off to the author for revisions. But other times reviewer feedback may not be so straightforward, either because reviewers’ individual comments are confusing or because some reviewers have conflicting opinions about the submission.

Jeremy Fox, Associate Professor of Population Ecology at the University of Calgary, offers some helpful advice on preparing reviewer feedback for authors in his blog “Dynamic Ecology.” As the former editor of Oikos, Fox says he took time to read through reviewer comments and pinpoint contradictory opinions among them in order to address potential areas of confusion in his letter to the author. Wherever possible, Fox said he always tried to give authors direction on which comments to focus on based on the aims and scope of his journal. In the case of a reviewer dispute that you and your co-editors do not feel comfortable mediating because you are not specialized in the manuscript subject area, Fox suggests soliciting an expert referee to weigh in.

In addition to clarifying reviewer comments, be sure to address any that are particularly snarky or unconstructive by modifying them accordingly. Authors will be more receptive to making revisions if they feel they’re being given valuable feedback rather than attempts at one-upmanship.

While it may take time upfront, proactively addressing conflicting, confusing, or unconstructive reviewer comments can make your journal’s revision process less stressful for authors and ensure that any subsequent rounds of peer review run more smoothly.

Give reviewers clear feedback forms

We’ve talked about what to do if your reviewers offer unclear or contradictory comments for the author - but what steps can your journal take to avoid this problem in the first place? While you unfortunately can’t eliminate the possibility of reviewer conflict, one step that you can take to improve the consistency of the reviews you receive is categorizing your reviewer feedback form.

Rather than simply asking reviewers to “provide constructive criticism about the manuscript” give them specific guidance as to what aspects of the submission they should focus on. There are many ways you can do this, including:

  • Create a “reviewer checklist” that highlights key points or questions reviewers should address in their comments
  • Include likert scale style questions as well as long form questions in your reviewer feedback form
  • Clarify what you expect from longform feedback questions - either by breaking up your reviewer form into a series of questions on particular aspects of the manuscript or by giving authors a list of points to hit within a single written response

By setting clear peer review expectations you can help reviewers avoid becoming preoccupied with issues of research style or focus that may be irrelevant or overly subjective in nature.

Make your editorial process transparent

No author likes to be left in the dark wondering how long a journal’s peer review process will take, especially when embarking on the effort of completing a revise and resubmit request. One of the best things your journal can do to improve R&Rs is take steps to make your peer review process more transparent. Let authors know the average amount of time it takes your journal to move a manuscript through peer review and let them know all of the steps they can expect between submitting their manuscript and receiving a decision. Authors want to know that their manuscript won’t get caught in a void of seemingly endless ongoing revision and will appreciate being given a sense of when they can expect an outcome.

Tales from the Trenches