The Gentle Art of Responding to Journal Editors’ Requests
The effect of a letter (or more often these days an email message) from the acquisitions editor to whom you have submitted your scholarly writing may feel far from gentle if it contains critical commentary on your work and requests changes that you had not envisioned. Indeed, as you read it you may well feel more like you are being struck a violent blow on the head than served a courteous request. The fact is, however, that an editor who has taken the time and effort to provide you with detailed feedback on your writing and suggest revisions to improve your work and render it publishable has responded to your submission both courteously and professionally. It is therefore essential to overcome your initial disappointment and any other negative emotions that feedback inspires in order to consider the advice you have received with a matching professionalism and a healthy dose of what Geoffrey Chaucer would have called ‘gentilesse.’
You may not at this point feel particularly thankful for the comments the editor and perhaps peer reviewers have offered, but you should – far worse would be a flat rejection without any explanation whatsoever – and expressing that gratitude is an excellent way to begin your letter. The wording you use is up to you, of course, but including some acknowledgement of the serious attention given to your paper would not be out of place. You might begin, for instance, with something like ‘Many thanks for your message and the careful attention you have dedicated to my paper. I have now given serious thought to the helpful comments you have provided and am happy to say that I will be able to make the required changes.’ If you have decided that you will not be able to make all of the revisions requested, that last part will need to be a little different: ‘am happy to say that I will be able to make most of the revisions you requested.’ ‘Most’ sounds far more accommodating than ‘some’ or ‘a few,’ so do try to revise in a way that makes that statement true, and if ‘most’ is not quite possible, the word ‘many’ may work if there are enough changes to justify it.
This general expression of eagerness to accommodate the editor’s needs should be followed (in a new paragraph) by specific information on exactly what and how you plan to revise. Let us say, for example, that one of the peer reviewers has noted that your report of results is somewhat long and convoluted and has suggested some streamlining of data to clarify your argument and render the tables you designed more visually effective for revealing the most important trends and patterns. This provides a perfect opportunity to share your agreement with the advice as well as your eagerness for improvements and specific plans for revisions, so you might try something like this: ‘I agree with the peer reviewer’s observations about the report of my research results and am eager to improve this section as suggested. My third and fourth trials show the most significant trends more clearly than the others do, so I will now focus on those in my discussion and revise my tables accordingly.’ Simpler requests, such as that for revisions needed to conform to journal guidelines, can be dealt with similarly: ‘I have now reviewed your author instructions and can see exactly how the style of my references is incorrect. I will make the necessary changes immediately and at the same time ensure that all other aspects of my paper conform to the guidelines.’
Remember to maintain that gentle and accommodating attitude throughout your message, keeping in mind that there is simply no substitute for kindness and good manners, and be sure as well to avoid errors and write with clarity, precision and eloquence. You may want to have a colleague or mentor read your letter before you send it because he or she will not be burdened with the emotional baggage that may linger on your shoulders, and engaging the services of a professional proofreader to ensure that your language is polished to perfection is a very good idea as well.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.