Rejection and Revision
- Even Nobel Laureates get
- Papers lying dormant in the file
drawer do not bring any good news!
- Submit the paper to another
journal within one month. But wait!
- If a referee points out a major
problem, you need to address it.
- You do not have to revise a
paper every time it is rejected.
- But if a paper is rejected 4
times, there is a serious flaw in the paper. Find and fix the problem.
- Make a modest effort to
incorporate the valuable suggestions of the referee before submitting to
- Why? The same referee might get
- Do whatever possible to make
sure the negative referee does not get the paper again. You are entitled
to new referee reports.
"stupid" referee misunderstood your paper, it is your fault
- Truth hurts sometimes, but
- Some referees spend as little as
15 minutes reading your paper. Your paper should be clearly presented,
and it should be comprehensible by such referees.
- The typical referee spends two
hours or more on your paper. Moreover, he/she is an expert in the field.
Find out why such an expert has trouble understanding your paper and
correct the problems.
- This "stupid" referee
problem will not disappear until you correct it.
- There must be something valuable
in those reports. Salvage and incorporate them freely in your paper. (And
you do not have to thank them.) This is not plagiarism.
Do not get angry
- Do not brood over ways to get
even with the referees or the editor. Your energy then would be devoted
to a counterproductive and unhappy task.
- Writing a rebuttal letter to the
editor rarely reverses the decision. The referee has to defend it, even
if it was a bad report.
- The editor already has a stack
of such complaints. One more is not likely to change the
editor’s decision, albeit there are exceptions.
- When the referee successfully
defends the report (in the eyes of the editor), you lose any capital you may
- Write only if it is a simple
- Instead of trying to prove that
the referee is wrong on several points, explain why you might deserve a
second or third opinion.
- Example: argue that there is no
mathematical error, contrary to the report.
- There might be a time limit for
resubmission, usually six months to a year from the date of the
- If you do not intend to revise
and resubmit the paper for whatever reason, let the editorial office know
of your intention (via e-mail/fax).
- Remember that for all practical
purposes this is probably your last chance to revise the
paper. The probability that you will succeed is about 50%, depending on
the journals. Sloppy, rough revisions will surely result in rejection.
The editorial office will not continue to provide mediation between the
referees and authors because there are other papers demanding attention.
- You received an invitation to
revise the paper because it might contain a publishable idea. However,
papers will not be accepted unless they are presentable and polished
enough for publication.
Be optimistic and
- Don't blow it. (If you do, you
may wait three more years to get another favorable letter.)
- Take the time to do a good job.
The goal is to ensure acceptance, not to minimize the effort.
- Do not save your effort. Go the
extra mile. You have a chance (about 50%).
Write a detailed
response to individual referees
- Take every comment of the
- In a note to be transmitted to
the referee, first thank him or her.
- Number all relevant comments and
respond to those (explain what you did in the revised paper).
- Indicate that you are doing
everything possible and more.
- If you cannot accommodate the
demands, thank the referee for the suggestion, but offer explanations why
they are beyond the scope of the paper or why it is not possible at the
Do not attack
- Generally, it is not a good idea
to berate the reviewers. Don’t lash out at the referees.
- Although they may not have a
favorable opinion of your paper, they took the time to read your paper!
- Do not say: "The referee's
idea is bad, but mine is good."
- Better to say, the referee has
an interesting notion, but the proposed idea is also good, particularly
in light of this or that fact.
- If the referee makes a valid
point (you can almost always find conditions under which the referee's
points are valid), explain why, due to this or that difficulty, you are
not pursuing that course in the paper.
revised paper within three months
- Remember that this invitation is
based on reports by some referees who had good first impressions about
your paper. Do not wait until that positive aura vanishes.
- Do not resubmit the revised
version in one month, even if you worked on it full time.
- If you do, the editor may think
that you have not devoted a sufficient amount of time to the revision.
Write just one
paragraph a day if you hate to revise
- The referees or editors have
asked you to do an impossible or dreadful task. Then just write one
paragraph a day. You can do that!
- This works when you know you can
do it, you should do it, but you cannot get excited. The situation
requires careful self-inducement.
- As you write a little bit at a
time, before you know it, you get fired up.
Listen to what
the editor says
- It is important to glean the
true message from the editor's letter.
- Do not try to bargain with the
editor (unless he/she starts it).
- Share the editor's letter and
referee reports with experienced colleagues. They may have surprisingly
When your revision
is completed, you should send the following to the editor:
- copies of the paper (as many as
- cover letter
- packet for each referee.
Check the Revised
- The cover page should contain
complete contact information about the author: (i) address, (ii)
telephone and fax numbers, and (iii) e-mail address. This allows the
editorial office to contact you quickly should the need arise. If you
anticipate moving, provide your forwarding postal and e-mail addresses.
- The cover page of the revised
paper should include the current date (or month and year) of revision;
you do not want the office to send an old version to the referees by
- If there were any complaints
about the writing style, try to get some editorial assistance. Remember
that many papers are rejected because of writing style problems.
- Eliminate typographical errors
in the cover page and the abstract. This is an absolute minimum courtesy.
- Last, but not least, make sure
that there are no pages missing in any of the copies.
succinctly how you revised the paper
- The purpose is to convince the
editor that he or she should not send the paper back to the referees.
- If the editor already indicated
that he or she would send the paper back to the referees, then your
letter also should explain how well you followed the suggestions of the
Prepare a packet
for each referee
- Regardless of whether the
editorial office is well-managed or not, you should prepare a packet for
each referee. Each packet must include everything a referee might
possibly need. Specifically,
- A copy of the original (or
latest) report. The referee might have lost the file or might not
remember even vaguely what he/she asked you to do. A copy of the report
not only helps the referee remember what he/she said about your paper,
but it also constrains the referee not to deviate too much from the
earlier report. The editorial office also has copies, but you want to ensure
acceptance even when the office is not well staffed.
- A copy of the revised version.
Make sure you have responded to every comment of the referee.
- A response to the referee's
report. Do not forget to thank the referee. Explain what you did or did
not do in response to every comment.
- If the referee said something
which you and the other referee did not agree on, include a common
response to the referees. This might calm down the problem referee.
© Kwan Choi, 1998-2002