Revising a manuscript: Thoughts on how to organize your response to peer reviewer and editor comments

Lorie Kloda
Editor-in-Chief, Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Associate University Librarian, Planning & Community Relations, Concordia University

Rebekah (Becky) Willson
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Lecturer, Department of Computer & Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

Lisl Zach
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Managing Partner, Informatics Insights, LLC, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Red Pen

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (Some rights reserved by cellar_door_films)

The process of revising and resubmitting a manuscript for further review can be a long and sometimes challenging process. As editors for the journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, we see a range of responses to requests for revisions or to revise and resubmit manuscripts. Based on our experience, there are things that you as an author can do to help both yourself and your reviewers to ensure a smooth process and to increase the likelihood of having your revised manuscript accepted for publication.

The first is to read the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions carefully. These comments are aimed at improving your manuscript. Not all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments may be applicable or relevant to your work, and therefore you may have good reasons for disagreeing with their suggestions. Not all of the changes suggested have to be made, but all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments do have to be addressed.

One challenging thing for editors and reviewers is the number of submissions we see. The time lag between when a manuscript is originally submitted and the time when it is revised and resubmitted can be many months. To help the editors and reviewers see whether you have addressed the comments made about your manuscript and revised it accordingly, you need to identify the changes you have made (or not made) and explain why.

One way to do this is to submit a revised version of the article with the changes clearly highlighted. Using Word’s Track Changes feature can be a useful tool to do this. By scanning through a manuscript with Track Changes, it is very clear what changes have been made. However, it must also be clear why you have made the changes that you did, how you approached those changes, and why you decided not to make the changes suggested. To keep track of your revisions – which are based on the input of at least two separate reviewers and the editor – a separate document that includes a table can be very useful. (See Rebekah Willson’s template for an example of how to organize this information.)

This table should consist of:

  1. The first column should contain the reviewers’ comments. Take each comment that requires a response (either a revision or an explanation) and paste it into a separate box.
  2. The second column should contain any revisions that you have made. With a brief description of what you’ve done, copy and paste the changes you’ve made to the manuscript as a result of the reviewers’ comments. Include page numbers (and, if helpful, table or figure numbers, paragraphs, or section names), so that it is easy to flip between the revised manuscript and the table of revisions. If the changes are too long to fit into the table, just provide the description and page numbers.
  3. The third column should explain your actions. If you have made revisions, explain how your changes have addressed the reviewer’s comments. If you have not made revisions, explain why you have made that decision.

Filling out the table once the revisions have been made can be very challenging. If you start by going through the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and putting them into the first column of the table, this will help you to identify the work that must be done. Then working between the table and your revised manuscript you can proceed in a step-by-step manner to complete your changes.

When working on a manuscript with multiple authors, a helpful strategy is to create the table and add all the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions, and then add another column to assign each of these to an author to address. Following this, a meeting to reach consensus on the changes to make and to assign the work can streamline the revision process and ensure the manuscript is resubmitted in a timely fashion.

See another example of how a PhD student organizes her manuscript revisions.

What questions do you have about the peer review and revisions process?

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Confessions of a Procrastinating (at times) Researcher

By Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)

When I sat down this morning to write out a comprehensive to-do list, I had to turn away from it for a moment. In my research section, there’s a bit too much going on. I’m in the middle of three research projects – one of which is a solo project and is hanging on far longer than I would have hoped. If it were a child, my data would be starting kindergarten this fall. My other two projects are collaborations. They are moving along, which I attribute to the accountability that comes from working with others. I sometimes look at co-workers and colleagues whom I admire and wonder “how do they get it all done?”

Regarding my solo project, I think my procrastination has been fueled by the feeling of not having a big enough chunk of time to really get into it. That’s merely an excuse, of course. I do have time, and I have had the time, and even if there are not great stretches of it, I should be able to be productive. But the longer I don’t do it, the easier it is to not do it. One of my collaborators, Lorie, said, (and I paraphrase): You can get a lot done in a couple hours or a half a day. You just do it! Just do it. That’s it, really. Don’t think about it, don’t mull it over, don’t wonder, don’t ponder, and for heaven’s sake, don’t read any more literature…just do it. As Yoda says, “Do. Or not do. There is no try.” I’ve been doing a lot of “not doing” on this solo project. So, enough of that! I’m going to enlist all of you as my accountability buddies. I’m declaring here in print that I will write that paper by Spring 2017.

How am I going to do this, you ask? I’m going to take advantage of the C-EBLIP Writing Circle. Every two weeks, a group of us gets together, shares progress and goals, and then writes for a couple of hours. It’s surprisingly effective! I also did some looking around for other productivity techniques and came across a post on lifehacker (and who doesn’t want to hack their life, am I right?) where they outline the five best productivity methods based on “your” votes. The Pomodoro Technique looks pretty interesting. I just need a “simple timer and a little discipline.” Hmm, okay. I’ll set the timer for 25 minutes, start it, and get to work. After I’ve worked for 25 minutes, the timer goes off, and I get a 5 minute break. Apparently, that is one “Pomodoro.” And I go on from there. The key is “short, sustained bursts.” There are some other productivity techniques listed, including a secret from Jerry Seinfeld. I do fear, however, that I will end up procrastinating by exploring more and better productivity techniques!

So, there you go. Probably more than you needed to know about my inner research psyche, but I surely cannot be alone when it comes to following through on research projects. I look to role models for inspiration, which is helpful. But probably the biggest drive for my solo research project right now is the age of the data. It’s still viable, I’m sure of that, but it really needs to get out there. If anything, I owe it to the folks who took the time to share their stories with me. So, that’s a good motivator, too. If you have similar stories to share, or some interesting productivity techniques, I’d love to hear about them.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Making Time to Write: the C-EBLIP Writing Circle

by Shannon Lucky
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

I don’t mean to brag, but I have been getting a lot of writing done this semester. A lot more than usual anyway – a huge achievement for a chronic writing procrastinator. So much of my work as an academic librarian includes writing (research, reports, documentation, instructional materials, funding proposals, this blog post…) but I often don’t set aside time to focus on my writing as both a skill and a product. My recent burst of productivity certainly isn’t a result of finding a previously untapped source of free time or boundless motivation. It isn’t a change in my work or a pile of deadlines suddenly coming due. I have to give almost all of the credit to peer pressure (the good kind) via the C-EBLIP writing circle.

Starting this past September U Sask librarians have been meeting every other Monday afternoon to talk about our writing, work through problems from peer review to punctuation, and get some serious work done. Carolyn Pytlyk, the Library’s research facilitator, introduced the idea of a writing circle and serves as our session facilitator. The format is really simple: we meet bi-weekly, we take turns reporting what we accomplished, we discuss some aspect of academic writing, and then we work silently for a few hours on our own projects. If that sounds simple that’s because it is, but I think there are a few things we have worked out during our first semester that have made our writing circle particularly productive.

  1. Meet bi-weekly – For our group, meeting at noon every second Monday gives us enough time to get some writing done even if we have a hectic schedule and don’t get into a daily writing habit (still the dream, not yet my reality). Originally we met for three hours – one hour for talking and two for writing – but recently extended our meeting time to four hours to give us more time for working if we get into a flow state. The consistency and predictability of our meeting schedule is important. We haven’t cancelled or rescheduled meetings, whomever is able to come attends. No one is expected to stay for the entire time and people are welcome to arrive late or slip away early. This occasionally means a very small group meets some weeks, but even then the pattern we have set works.
    The room we use has turned out to be an important factor. We have pre-booked a specific meeting room in the library that has enough plugins for everyone’s computers, a big window for some natural light, is quiet, and (most importantly) we are not visible to passing colleagues who might just have a quick question. Avoiding benign distractions has been a game changer for me – getting away from my email inbox, phone, and open office door is key.
  2. Reporting – Each meeting starts out with an informal round table reporting of our last two weeks. We list what we have accomplished since the last meeting, if we met our writing goal, and then we share our goals for the next week. This is where the peer pressure begins to work for me. Having to confess that I didn’t do what I said I would hurts. I don’t like to fall short of my goals and have to fess up in front of friends and colleagues (however kind and supportive), so I am motivated to get my work done. This process has also made me much better at estimating how long it will take me to get a writing task wrapped up.
  3. Discuss – After accounting for our own goals we usually talk about something someone in the group is working through like responding to peer reviewer comments, writing similar literature reviews for multiple papers, or active vs. passive voice in academic writing. Carolyn has also begun a very popular series of grammar lessons based on her pet peeves. I have learned a lot and I am far more careful with my proofreading now. These discussions have been a fantastic way to learn about how other writers in my field work and to assuage my fears that I am alone in my struggles to write productively, clearly, eloquently, and quickly. Writing is hard work and having somewhere to talk through problems is incredibly beneficial. I think of it a bit like writing therapy and I am usually eager to get to work after hashing out some writing anxieties with the group.
  4. Work – The key to my increased output this semester. After we talk, we get down to it and write. I am amazed at what I can accomplish in three hours of focused, uninterrupted writing. Simply being in a room full of quiet but concentrated typing and pen scratching is motivating in an entirely unique way. I don’t check email during this time and I always come with a plan for what I want to work on. Following Paul Silvia’s advice in How to Write A Lot I consider any part of the writing process fair game for this work time including reading, data analysis, creating an outline, drafting, editing – anything that gets me closer to a finished project.

That’s it! Four easy steps to writing more (and making the process less painful). with this group has motivated and focused me in ways I have really struggled to do on my own. Having the in-person meetings is wonderful (I would highly recommend starting your own group!) but if you are in a place where starting a writing circle isn’t possible the internet is a great place to find a supportive writing community.

Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is a virtual academic writing group that meets on Twitter (@SUWTUES) on the first and third Tuesday of every month. There are three different time zone groups to suit writers in different parts of the world (or night owls).

  • @SUWTues for the Asia-Pacific region
  • @SUWTUK for the UK and Western Europe
  • @SUWTNA for Canada and the US.

Follow the acount of your choice and the host will let you know when to start and when to take a break. You can talk with other participants and report your progress using the hashtags #suwtues / #suwtuk / #suwtna

The next Shut Up and Write Tuesday is on February 2nd, 2016. My New Years writing resolution is to try to double my output by sticking with the C-EBLIP writing circle and trying out Shut Up & Write Tuesdays. Hopefully I will see you on Twitter in 2016, please wag a digital finger at me if you don’t – that peer pressure really works!

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Writing for Scholarly Publication: an Editor’s Perspective

by David Fox Librarian Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan

Not every manuscript submitted to a scholarly journal is a well-constructed, cogently written, polished work of prose. As Editor-in-Chief of Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research from 2011 to 2014, this writer evaluated more than 150 manuscripts of varying quality, and all of them required some editing or revision. This includes some of my own pieces for Partnership. I’m painfully aware that, as a writer, I’m just as inclined to slip-ups and omissions as anyone else. We sometimes seem to be blind to our own mistakes. That’s why we need editors. It takes many passes and many different eyeballs on a page to make it as clean as it should be.

When it comes to editing manuscripts, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but with a bit of effort you can usually produce a pretty serviceable pigskin wallet – and that’s often good enough for publication. Manuscripts from first-time authors, authors with a limited command of English, and authors not familiar with the conventions of academic writing need more than the average amount of editorial work, but I’m proud to say that at Partnership we rarely rejected a manuscript due to deficiencies in the writing alone. If the author had something interesting and important to say, we worked with that author to make the article publishable. Faulty methodology is another matter. Editors can fix bad writing, but we can’t fix bad research.

Below are some tips on writing for submission to a scholarly journal based on my experience reading manuscripts at Partnership. A lot of this advice may seem obvious to readers of this blog, but many of the papers I reviewed overlooked some of these points. Journals are typically juggling a number of manuscripts simultaneously under tight timelines. Anything that interrupts or slows down work on a manuscript may delay its publication. Attention to the following suggestions may expedite acceptance and processing of a submission.

What to write and where to submit?
• Pick an appropriate topic. To justify publication, a manuscript must have something new and interesting to say to the target readership of the journal. At Partnership in recent years, the most frequently cited articles have dealt with the adaptation of new technologies, particularly social media applications, to library functions; development of new services, including services to specific communities or user populations; new scholarship and publishing models; and new approaches to traditional library competencies.
• Pick an appropriate journal for your topic. What audience are you trying to reach? Is your topic of wide, general interest or narrow and specialized? Read the “purpose and scope” notes associated with potential journals to determine whether your submission will be a good fit for the readership.
• Where possible (and it’s almost always possible), choose an open access journal. Remember that every time you publish behind a paywall, a kitten dies!
• Work must be original, not previously published, and not simultaneously submitted to another publication. If you are considering submitting something to a scholarly journal, don’t pre-post it to an open access repository or conference Web site. If an identical or similar version of your paper can be located via a Google search, then it has essentially already been published and will probably be rejected.

Pay attention to publisher’s guidelines
Journal publishers tend to be fairly strict about adherence to style guidelines. This is in order to promote consistency of presentation from article to article.
• Pay attention to your publication’s instructions for authors re. manuscript length, spacing, etc.
• Follow your publication’s guidelines for bibliographic style and citation format. If the publisher’s instructions call for APA style and you submit your paper in MLA, Chicago, or some other format, it will likely be sent back to you for revision, and you will lose time.

• Write with the reader in mind. Avoid jargon, colloquialisms, and unexplained acronyms (unless you’re sure the audience will understand the reference).
• Adhere to the conventions for scholarly writing:

-Cite your sources. Every fact, idea, opinion, or quotation borrowed from another author needs to be documented (MLA 165). The editor cannot do this for you.
-Write clear, precise, simple, and straightforward prose.
-Use formal English (What is Academic English?). Avoid conversational language, e.g., “great”. “Fun” is not an adjective!
-Write in the third person. Avoid the use of personal pronouns: I, my, you, your. Refer to yourself as “the author”, “this researcher”, etc.
-Avoid using contractions: won’t, doesn’t.
-Exercise caution when expressing opinions and outcomes: use “may”, rather than “is” unless completely certain of your claims.
-Unlike creative writing, the passive voice is often appropriate in academic prose.

• Master basic punctuation and grammar. Poor grammar and punctuation, although fixable, conveys a negative impression to the editor and will require more time and effort by the copyeditor. In reading manuscripts at Partnership, it was astonishing to find that many librarian authors do not seem to have a good grasp of the rudiments of punctuation. In future blog posts I will discuss the most common punctuation mistakes and how to avoid them. It’s important for librarian authors to master these basic skills. Insistence on following standard punctuation rules is not just pedantry. Good punctuation helps to convey meaning, to avoid confusion, and allows a manuscript to be read more quickly and efficiently.
• Avoid word repetition. Use a thesaurus!

Prior to submitting your manuscript…
• While working towards a submission deadline, make sure to leave time for quality control.
• Have one or more trusted colleagues read your paper for clarity and comprehension before submission. This is especially advisable if English is not the author’s first language. If your closest colleagues don’t understand what you’re trying to say, then the average reader certainly won’t.
• Have another colleague with a good eye for detail proofread your work for spelling accuracy, typos, and word omissions. Sometimes it’s difficult to see one’s own mistakes.
• Leave time for revisions based on your colleagues’ suggestions.

• Assume that you will be asked to revise your manuscript. Editors rarely accept a manuscript without asking for changes, and peer-reviewers almost always suggest revisions. Don’t be discouraged by constructive criticism.
• Do take seriously the comments of peer-reviewers as peer-review usually results in substantial improvements to a manuscript; however, reviewers of the same paper can sometimes have conflicting opinions, and some advice they give may be off the mark (Soule 14). A good editor will evaluate the fairness of reviews and decide which comments to share with the author, or recommend which comments the author should particularly focus on. Remember that ultimately you are responsible for the integrity and coherence of your own work. Make those recommended changes that seem appropriate and sensible, and let the editor decide whether your revisions are acceptable.

A writer’s best friends are a thesaurus, style guide, and punctuation and grammar manuals. Keep them within easy reach on your desktop (either physical or virtual) and consult them frequently!

Works Cited
MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Writing. 3rd ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2008. Print.

Soule, Daniel P. J. , Lucy Whiteley, and Shona McIntosh, eds. Writing for Scholarly Journals: Publishing in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Glasgow: eSharp, 2007. Web. 6 March 2015.

What is Academic English? The Open University, 2015. Web. 6 March 2015.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

A Style Manual for the Rest of Us

by Christine Neilson
Information Specialist, St. Michael’s Hospital
Toronto, Ontario

I’ve decided I like writing. But the hard part about writing is making sure that it’s done well, and I’ve read enough library literature that was not well written that I get concerned about my work falling into that category, too. Before Christmas some colleagues told me about Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist/linguist, and his recent book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They told me that Pinker’s books are very good and even entertaining. I thought, “The man writes about writing – how entertaining could it be?”, but I was curious. When I flipped through the book, I noticed that it included several cartoons: I took this to be a good sign. In the prologue Pinker wrote “By replacing dogma about usage with reason and evidence, I hope not just to avoid giving ham-fisted advice but to make the advice that I do give easier to remember than a list of dos and don’ts.” (p 6). If that doesn’t speak to an EBLIPer, I don’t know what does. I was sold.

It turns out the book was indeed entertaining. More importantly, it was easy to read and helped me to pinpoint a few areas that I need to work on. When all is said and done, I took two things away from Pinker’s book. First: there are rules to follow including, but not limited to, grammar and punctuation, but they are not an end in themselves. They are tools to get you closer to the goal that any writer should have in mind: composing clear prose that engages a reader in way that makes the topic easy to understand. In fact some of the rules we were taught in school are incorrect and the application of some others includes room for the writer’s discretion, and learning this made me feel a better about my writing (maybe it’s not so bad after all!). But what I liked best about Pinker’s book was the use of concrete examples of good and bad writing, and how the bad writing might be improved. It reminded me of the reality TV program “What Not to Wear”, where the hosts set out to improve participants’ wardrobes by showing them not only which elements work and which don’t, but also by giving the reasoning behind the advice so participants can continue to improve their style after the show is over. Pinker’s examples were drawn from a variety of sources, from academic papers to advice columns, and they illustrate that good (or bad!) writing is not limited to a specific area.

Pinker’s book also drove home for me that writing is an art form. There are rules and techniques to learn, but just like being able to follow a recipe doesn’t make you a master chef, knowing the rules does not necessarily make you a great writer. Any art form requires creativity, time, and effort. You have to develop a feel for what you’re doing that comes from experience: learning when to follow the rules and when to throw them away, and learning from others’ example. This may not be very encouraging for those of us who are not naturally inclined to be great authors and want a quick fix, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever tried to become proficient at anything, whether it’s writing, karate, mathematics, or Ukrainian dancing.

So how can we move our writing along the spectrum of “bad” to “good”? By practicing and reflecting on the good writing we come across. Reading Pinker’s book can’t hurt either. In fact, I believe I’ll read it again.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views of St. Michael’s Hospital, the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.