Congratulations! You opened your email to a message of revise and resubmit. This is an excellent response for your submitted manuscript. Articles rarely get accepted without revisions and desk rejection rates are high. A revise and resubmit means the editor and reviewers see promise in your work (no matter how snarky Reviewer 2 might sound!).
Even so, you may not feel like celebrating. Completing a revise and resubmit can be one of the most daunting, challenging tasks an author faces. You feel as if you have one chance to get it right (which is usually true), you might be on a strict timeline, and the feedback may be conflicting or difficult to interpret.
There are three questions I usually hear from writers who want to know how to complete a revise and resubmit:
- Where do I start?
- How much time will the revise and resubmit take?
- How is the revision process different from the writing process?
In this post, I’ll answer each one of those questions and also show you how to create a revision plan. I’ll also address how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from completing your revise and resubmit in a timely manner. By the time you’re done reading this post, you should have enough information to feel confident in beginning your revise and resubmit.
Where do I start?
First, read through the reviewers’ responses. Don’t start highlighting to taking notes yet. Simply read through them once, and give yourself some time to process your reaction. You may feel defensive, frustrated, or confused. You might even feel stupid, as you read comment after comment pointing out what you did wrong. These feelings are natural. You likely feel protective of your work. After all, you spent a lot of time on it!
As for the planning of revisions, I think that you should start with a table where you organize the revisions by the following themes:
List all of the feedback and suggestions where the reviewers agree. These are the edits that deserve priority.
Identify the conflicting information from reviewers, and put each piece of conflicting advice down the cells in a column. This is where you have to decide which direction to take, unless you received guidance from the editor. Leave an empty column next to this column to write your decision and your justification.
There will be some feedback that you strongly disagree with, or that you just can’t follow. Put all of this in another column. Leave an empty column next to this column to write your justification for eschewing this advice.
Then, once you’ve made that table, rank the revisions from most difficult to easiest. This ranking becomes the basis for your revision timeline and to-do list, which I’ll address next.
How Much Time Will The Revise and Resubmit Take?
Authors can feel a lot of anxiety around time, especially if they think there’s a correlation between the time it takes them to complete the revisions and the expected quality of the finished manuscript. I personally don’t think the expectations concerning the quality of the revise and resubmit change the longer the manuscript is out for revision. Editors want the strongest manuscript possible regardless of the timeframe – and they certainly won’t accept a poorly-revised article just because the author got it back to them quickly.
Unfortunately, authors who experience such anxiety procrastinate on their revisions. They either become hyper-focused on one aspect of the revisions, introduce new revisions that weren’t mentioned by the reviewers, or they avoid the revise and resubmit altogether. As a result, their revisions end up taking even longer than necessary.
There’s no formula for calculating how long it will take to complete a revise and resubmit. No one can say, for instance, that a revise and resubmit takes half as long as writing the original article. The time commitment depends on the extent of the revisions. Luckily, you’ve already made a table that includes all of the revisions you’ll complete. You can return to that table and try to attach time estimates to the easiest tasks. If you were asked to complete basic tasks like adding a citation, reformatting a table, including more information in an appendix, etc, it should be relatively easy for you to determine how much time you’ll need.
If you track your time regularly, you will be able to realistically estimate the time you’ll need for a given revision task. If you don’t track regularly, now is a great time to start!
How is the revise and resubmit process different from the initial writing process?
From a practical standpoint, the revision process is more predictable because you have structured feedback. You have a full manuscript to work with, rather than the draft you had during the initial writing process. You’ll also be working on a different (hopefully shorter) timeline.
There’s way more variation in the revise and resubmit process. Unlike the process of writing an article from scratch, which is relatively straightforward and consistent across articles (especially if you have a system like the one I teach), each revise and resubmit will have different demands. Some call for minor revisions while some call for major overhauls.
Even though the process is different, the expected outcome is the same – the best article you could write. It can be helpful to think of the revise and resubmit as the final step in the process you began when you first had your idea for the manuscript – rather than a disruptive, overwhelming, and intimidating experience. You’re running towards the finish line rather than starting your race over.