Feedback, not failure…

Prof Alan Fyall, Deputy Dean (Research and Enterprise) in the School of Tourism, discusses the experience of receiving reviewers’ comments…

After nearly 15 years of publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals I am sure I am not alone in still living in fear of emails containing the “feedback” from editors and reviewers of journals about my papers. Over the years, the inconsistency of reviewers’ comments never ceases to amaze me, while the often unhelpful and sometimes down right rude tone of some reviewers does make me sometimes beg the question …. why do I bother? After a “time out”, however, often a period of two-to-three days, upon revisiting the comments advanced I often, albeit reluctantly, accept that the two or three reviewers have probably made some good comments and that, if I calm down and just adhere to the questions raised, will generate a paper far superior to the one I first submitted. This is not always the case but more often than not reviewers do actually provide very honest, fair and helpful comments in an attempt to improve the quality of submissions. Yes, they can sometimes be pedantic, over-emphasise their own contribution and state the obvious. More often, however, they will provide a critical overview of the broad theme of the paper and its rationale, the methodology and sampling, presentation of findings and conclusions drawn, as well as an overview of the way in which the paper is organised and presented.

My advice to old and new researchers is quite simple. In the first instance, take a deep breath when opening that email, read its contents and then leave for a while and avoid at all costs a hasty and reactive response that will only make things worse. Secondly, accept that editors and reviewers are only human (well, most of them) and that what they are communicating is their views and opinions which most probably do not concur with yours and more often than not will conflict with those of other reviewers. Thirdly, take all the feedback provided and take time in amending your paper and the reply to editors and reviewers that explains exactly what changes have been made in improving the quality of your submission. Where you still disagree be constructive in your explanation and offer further insights that the reviewers may have missed in their interpretation of your work. Finally, resubmit your paper and promise to yourself that you bear no grudges against the editor and/or reviewers as you can normally guarantee that at some point in the future they will once again review your work and remember the professional manner in which you dealt with their feedback the first time. For me, after 15 years of publishing I am still learning, still amazed at some of the comments I receive and am still ……. slightly nervous about opening that email; a fear which is unlikely to vanish perhaps as we continue to learn and learn from others in our respective academic publishing journeys

One Response to “Feedback, not failure…”

  1. Prof John Fletcher

    As one of the “old researchers” that Alan refers to and also an Editor I would like to not only endorse some of the things that he says but also raise the issue of the reviewing system. First, there are a lot of academics out there submitting papers to journals but it is amazing how it is the “older” researchers that are still carrying the bulk of the review work in many journals. Online submissions these days have an easy to operate “decline to review” button (which I often consider hiding) and all too often I see that an author who may have submitted 3 or 4 manuscripts to my journal over the past year or so yet has declined to review any papers where invitations have been sent out. Academia is a world that exists on the basis of giving and taking not just the latter. Secondly, with respect to the reviews you may get, there is something of a lottery going on – the number of times manuscripts are returned from reviewers where one is recommending accpet with minor revision and the other saying outright reject! I have had to go to threee reviewers so often that I have now decided to go to a triple-blind review process to get a broader view on manuscripts and to give the authors a fairer hearing. Thirdly, if asked to resubmit and let the editor know how you have addressed the reviewer’s comments PLEASE don’t simply write “modified the manuscript to take account of the reviewers comments”. Be explicit and state how you have addressed each point as it makes our jobs much easier and allows us to be much faster in responding to authors. Keep submitting – and reviewing!