Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Librarian’s Guide to Dealing with Revision Requests

The Librarian’s Guide to Dealing with Revision Requests

Michael Lorenzen

The manuscript is finished. You have proofread it endlessly and feel good about your work. You then safely put it in the mail or send it via e-mail to the editor. At this point, you are happy and can already envision seeing your work in print. The manuscript is forgotten and perhaps you have started on your next writing project.

And then it happens. The manuscript is returned to you. Instead of an acceptance notification, you are asked to do more work! In fact, the editor may demand substantial revisions, which may require days of effort. At this point, many authors despair and some never make the revisions; dooming their writing to go unpublished.

After all the work of writing and submitting a manuscript, there is a possibility you will get rejected or be asked to make significant revisions to your work. No matter how good an author is at writing, some manuscripts for some reason will not be accepted at the first place they are submitted. Many more will eventually be accepted but will require extra effort to satisfy the demands of the editor. The more an author writes, the more often this will happen.

Rejoice and Revise!

As disappointing as getting a revision request is, it also is a harbinger of good news. If an editor makes requests for changes to a manuscript, the editor is planning on publishing the work. If you get a manuscript back from the editor with the request to rewrite it, do so. If you follow the advice provided by the editor and referees, the manuscript will get accepted. It is highly unlikely that a manuscript rewritten to the specifics of these comments will get rejected.

It may sound strange that one should be happy to get a revision request. However, consider the worst alternative. Would you rather have a manuscript rejected outright with reasons listed by the editor you have no way to address? The revision process gives you a good chance of getting published.

Read Carefully

If a manuscript is rejected, read the rejection letter carefully. What were the reasons listed for the rejection? In most cases, these will be valid and reviewing them will actually help make the manuscript better if it is rewritten. If you have questions, ask the editor for clarification.

Make sure that the revision makes a good attempt at meeting both the spirit and the letter of what is being requested. As a journal editor, I have been frustrated by writers who are sent revision requests and then make weak attempts to address the concerns I have raised. Rather than consider what I as an editor want the author to do, the author has basically sent me the same manuscript the second time. This is usually followed by a rejection letter on my part. Take the time to read the comments, revise your manuscript, and then send it back to the editor for what should be an approval as long as a real attempt is made to revise according to the desire of the editor.

Disagreeing with the Requested Revisions

In some cases, you may disagree with the revisions requested. It is possible that the editor misunderstood your research methodology for example. If you feel the editor made a mistake, contact the editor and discuss it. It may not get the manuscript accepted as is but it may be worth the time to do so as it may result in the revision request being rescinded or made less laborious. Or, it may give you a better understanding of what is wrong with the manuscript helping you to fix it.

Sometimes a manuscript just will not be accepted as is by an editor. If you feel you cannot make the revisions requested, thank the editor and move on. Do not send a nasty note back to the editor. Not only is this impolite but it could sabotage your attempts at getting published in the future! The simple truth is that the library field is not a difficult one in which to get published. If you and an editor disagree, move on.

Be Prompt

There are few things more frustrating to an editor than an author who cannot meet deadlines. Editors have deadlines too, and tardy authors impede the whole process. When revisions requests are made, the editor hopes that the manuscript will be brought up to acceptable standards so that it can be published. The editor may hope to publish it in the near future. For this reason, the deadlines for revisions are often shorter than they are for the original manuscript due date.

Finding the mental energy to make revisions can be hard. For this reason, many authors delay too long when revising a manuscript. Be sure to work promptly on any revision requested by an editor. If you are unsure of the deadline, ask!


Being asked to revise a manuscript can be frustrating. Who wants to work on a paper that was thought done? However, being asked to revise one’s work is actually good news because it means that the manuscript is on its way to acceptance. Take the time understand what the editor wants in the revision and be sure to do that promptly. It is okay to disagree with the revisions requested but be sure to communicate with the editor in an open-minded way. Revisions may not always be fun to do but they are an important part of the publishing process.

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