Do multiple revise and resubmit decisions bode well – or ill?

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Posted by Brian Cody, community karma 116112

For the experienced authors among you, I have a simple question: if a journal gives multiple revise-and-resubmit decisions on an article (e.g. two or three), is that generally a sign that they are inching the manuscript towards publication, or generally a sign that the manuscript is slowly being mired in indecision and lack of enthusiasm?

3 Comments

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Lawrence Bowdish, community karma 347

Brian,

I think there are a lot of factors there, including how many reviewers look at the article each time, how strong the "revise/resubmit" suggestion is, and how quickly these decisions are being turned around.

If it is a top journal (which I'm not even sure how many of them would do multiple revise/resubmits), are you bogging yourself down too much?  Maybe you should take a step down to a slightly less powerful journal and get the article out the door 6-18 months sooner, to say nothing of how much quickly you'll get the article in print.  I think if you are at a position in your career where you need publications, I don't think hanging around for more than one revise/resubmit order would do you any good if you want to build the CV for either a job placement or running to tenure.  You are already stuck in enough "mires" as you suggest at your conclusion. 

over 8 years ago
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Will Hauser, community karma 227

Brian,

I think my sample size is far to small to permit me to do anything other than speculate.  I wish that were otherwise.

 

I'm not much for optimism but in this case I think multiple R&R's mean that the journal is investing time and resources in your publication.  That, in turn, suggests to me that the article is trodding along toward publication.  I view an R&R as being basically a conditional accept as in, "address these problems and you're in, *probably*."  That said, I've had R&R's end with a rejection (and that hurt) so that 'probably' is a big one.

 

I absolutely agree with Lawrence that the tone of the reviews is probably a better indicator of the article's prospects.  Changes in tone from one set of reviews to the next may be paticularly insightful.

 

Another possibility that you don't consider is that multiple R&R's may reflect an unwillingness (perhaps rightfully!) to bend to the requests and suggestions of the reviewers.  I say this knowing that reviewers mean well and usually, but not always, make informed and insightful suggestions for revisions.  

 

I tend to favor submitting 'high' on the chance that the article is better than I think it is.  Obviously, this wastes time - even getting an editorial deflection may take a month or more.  But, to me, landing the article in a better journal is worth it, even if my ego gets trammeled upon along the way.  In my field at least, having the article accepted or 'forthcoming' is every bit as good as having it in print.  So, depending on when you plan to be on the job market, you may have more time for R&Rs than you think.

over 8 years ago
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Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

I've had three blind-reviewed academic articles published, and all have involved at least minor second R&Rs before being accepted.

But, largely due to wording I guess, I especially struggled with this question in one case recently. On the first R&R for this manuscript, I'd been asked to make fairly substantial revisions, including a significant reframing and focusing in on certain things the reviewers wanted to emphasize but felt were underdeveloped. I had done this, taking most of the (long!) period I was given for revisions, and then waited another fairly long time to hear back. The response was what gave me pause - even knowing that these things often require a second revision, and feeling very much that R&Rs represent a significant investment and interest on the part of the journal, the wording of the editor's message read as less than encouraging to me. It sort of said: "it's improved but still just not there and seems to have a way to go; we'll look at another revision, but of course we make no promises and considering how long its taking us, and how long its taking you, its fine if you'd rather withdraw it and try somewhere else."

I felt, at first, like the editor was basically telling me he didn't have much hope for the piece. But then my father, an academic himself well aquainted with both sides of the journal publishing process, became the first of several people to point out something obvious: it's their job to tell you if they don't want to publish it! Failing that, you have to read anything else as positive! If they had anything less than a continuing hope of publishing it, they would (or sure as hell should) say so, because it's to nobody's advantage to string you along. With a bit of renewed confidence from him and my very supportive writing group (and, yes, a good bit of "well it's gone this far I have nothing to lose by making the suggested changes and trying it one more time"), I spent another few weeks fixing it up and sent it back. Low and behold, I got an email just a few weeks later saying it had been accepted with no further changes at all. 

Now I don't know entirely what to make of this particular situation, but I think the moral is nonetheless that further revisions are almost always a step forward (unless you seriously disagree with the direction the editors want you to take it of course) and indeed probably suggest that the journal is likely to ultimately publish it if you give them something close to what they want. In light of that, while I hear what Lawrence is saying above about not wanting to be stuck in peer review forever, if something has already gone through revisions once and come back for more, I think its almost certainly still going to be quicker to keep fighting through the current editorial gauntlet (at a presumably more desireable journal) than starting afresh somewhere new (and presumably less desirable). Or, at least, it worked for me.

over 8 years ago
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