I received a tweet asking whether I had written anything about managing manuscript edits. You need to figure out how to manage the work involved in revising the manuscript once you’ve made those decisions. And you’ll need to write a letter to the editor when you resubmit. In November 2019, I published a Short Guide, Peer Review, which incorporates this material and expands on it to provide context and advice for both authors and reviewers.
I always work by the principle that there are multiple ways to do anything and you need to find what works for you. In figuring that out, it is often helpful to see how other people manage the same process. I share this model in the spirit of offering an idea. Modify to suit your own preferences. Please share modifications or thoughts in the comments so others can benefit from them.
If you have a different system you’d like to share, let me know. The more models we can share, the more likely others will find a system that works for them.
I asked my life-partner, Matthew Paterson, a professor and former journal editor, to tell me/you about the system he uses.
Whenever I get an R&R for a piece, which is always my intended result when submitting an article, the first thing I do is to take the reviewer’s comments, and any specific ones from the journal’s editor(s), and cut and paste them into a table, while inserting comments in the margins of the article as reminders of what to do.
I use a simple two-column table. In the left hand column, I cut and paste the comments, and in the right hand, I describe and explain my responses and changes in the paper. The main reason to do this is to avoid being overwhelmed by the totality of the changes reviewers may ask for, and break it down to a set of manageable tasks.
It is important to make sure that each cut and pasted entry is as restricted and precise as possible. It is also important not to put anything in the right hand column until you have actually done the change. That way you see the progress in responding as you go along. The comments in the margins of the article will remind you how you thought you would respond in general terms.
Matthew shares his 2-column table with the editor in the letter he sends with the revised manuscript. I’ve addressed that issue in a separate post.
I will suggest a modification
Make it a 3-column table. Use the headings: Reviewer Comments, My Thoughts, Change Made. Fill the “My Thoughts” column as you go through as you go through the comments. Fill the Change Made column as you make the changes.
It is helpful to keep your comments about what the Reviewer says with the Reviewer comments, especially if you are prone to relinquishing authorial control. Matthew is a very experienced academic author and doesn’t get worried about things like reviewers asking for contradictory things, misunderstanding his argument, or pushing their own agendas. It’s perfectly normal to get worried about those things and to find it difficult to respond to them. Writing your thoughts right next to the reviewer comments can help you make the decisions you need to make.
Treat this as a private document. You can swear, insult the reviewer, be melodramatic, or whatever else it takes to get through the process.
You can also use the My Thoughts comments to make notes about where one reviewer’s comment contradicts another, to add notes on advice you get from other colleagues about how to deal with a specific comment, and so on.
Other minor modifications:
You might want to be able to sort and re-sort the table to make it easier to work with. That would require more columns and the functionality that a spreadsheet would provide. If so, use a spreadsheet instead of a table in Word (or whatever word processing document you use). Have a column headed “Reviewer” ensuring there is a reviewer number in every row (which will allow you to re-sort by Reviewer to check that you’ve addressed everything, or to use the contents of the 2 columns Matthew suggested in your reply to the editor). You may also want a column for the section of the paper so you can sort by section and deal with all comments on that section together, see the possibly contradictory comments etc. A column for “status” would enable you to keep track of progress if you have an intermediary status between not done and done.
You could also create these as items in a task list but you lose the ability to easily translate your working document into something you can share with an editor.
How to deal with reviewer comments by Helen Kara (starts with how to deal with the emotional reaction; then a version of the “make a table” approach that is quite interesting; also includes scripts for things you aren’t going to do)
How to respond to reviewer comments by Raul Pacheco-Vega, a similar method explained in great detail with lots of photos
An improved version of the Drafts Review Matrix – responding to reviewers and editors’ comments By Raul Pacheco-Vega, updating and extending that other post.
How to reply to reviewers: a terrible guide that no one should follow at Errant Science provides a more sarcastic approach that may be more in line with your initial feelings.
How to Start a Revise and Resubmit by Jane Jones.
Responding to Peer Reviews by Kim Nicholas also has specific advice for coauthored papers and coordinating with coauthors.
Links edited 31 Jan 2017. Information about Peer Review (A Short Guide) added 8 October 2019.