SURESH CANAGARAJAH: February 2010 Archives

So, your submission has gone through a thorough review in a journal and you address the queries and suggestions of the referees well. But when you receive the comments from the second round of review, you find that there is a new referee who is making a completely different set of suggestions. You bite your lips and address the new suggestions, thinking that the article will now be accepted. You get the decision: while the previous reviewers feel that your article is ready for publication, there is yet another new reviewer who asks a new set of questions.



That has happened to me for at least two submissions in different journals. In one case, the process went on for about ten rounds of review. First, my co-author and I addressed the comments of the reviewers effectively. After the revision, the guest editors of the journal asked us to shape the article in ways they preferred. After we satisfied the two of them, the actual editors of the journal joined the fun. We satisfied one of them quite effectively in two rounds of review. But when the co-editor entered at a late stage, he made us take back everything that the guest editors had asked us to do, in addition to making many nitpicking comments. My co-author was in tears. She was ready to give up. But I encouraged her to stay the course, especially because she was on the tenure-track, and needed the publication badly for her record. We managed to see the article in print before our hair turned too gray.


I can now understand how others may have felt about this turn of events when I was an editor. I have had one author complain very early in the review process when she found that a reviewer who was not in the first round read her revised submission. I have always justified the need to have the new referee. There is an important reason why this might happen: Of the two or three referees who read the submission initially, one may not be available. Rather than wait indefinitely for this referee to become free, the editor may send it to a new person. However, I have sometimes made a virtue out of necessity and given additional reasons to justify the role of the new referee: 1. It's good for a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at the revised version. Some authors address the suggestions with local changes in the manuscript, not focusing on the overall coherence of the new version. 2. Wouldn't more referees make the article even better? Isn't it better to catch all the mistakes and limitations in the submission with the help of as many referees as possible, and shape the article into a better finished product before it gets published? Isn't it better for referees to catch the problems rather than readers find them after the article is published?


However, when I experience this for my submission, from the other end of the publishing process, I can see how strenuous this experience of revision can be. I don't think there is any way out of this. You sound like a loser when you complain about more queries from new referees. The argument is: if you are so sure of your study and interpretation, why should you fear addressing any amount of questions from any amount of referees?


Once I did have an author who angrily wrote back that all the suggestions should have been given right away in the first round of review, and withdrew his publication. Another author adopted an interesting strategy: before he revised his article, he wrote an email to summarize his understanding of the referees' comments, outlined his planned changes, and asked if the editor would be satisfied with this approach. I guess he was guarding against new demands and queries after he sent his version. I thought it was an interesting strategy. You can try that sometimes.