Saying No to Revisions

There are times when it’s appropriate to say no to reviewers. It doesn’t happen all the time (sorry, you’re gonna have to do 99.9% of those revisions requested), but it does happen. But how do you which one (or maybe two) revisions to reject and what do you say back to the editors and reviewers? Well, first, let’s consider the emotional cycle you go through when you get reviews back.

The Emotional Cycle of Not Getting Rejected

You would think that not getting rejected would make you happy. For me, it does, for about a second, and then I have to dig into the reviews and see what I need to do to move that piece to an accept. Because remember, the primary goal, the most realistic goal, for submitting a piece to an academic journal is to not get it rejected. For most of us, this means we will be asked to revise and resubmit.

Reading through what people want you to do can be difficult and yes, sometimes I get ask to include specific factual information that I have already included. And yes, that makes me angry. Sometimes I think the suggestions are amazing and totally on point. Other times I am confused by what I have read, and sometimes I think the suggestions are dumb – at least initially.

So for me, the first thing I do is experience an emotional cycle that kinda resembles this:

  • Happy (because I’m not rejected)
  • Overwhelmed (so many revisions to make!)
  • Upset (didn’t any of you read my paper/want to recognize my awesomeness)
  • Grumpy (fine, ok, I’ll do the work)

This, or some version of it, is pretty normal for me. I bet you experience it too. So go with it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to figure out what to do first. Just be emotional for one-two days. Then get started.

Determining Which Revision to Reject

You read that heading right. It’s revision – singular. It’s not plural. Out of all the revisions you’ve been asked to make, you can pick one – maybe two – to not do. The rest – you have to do them. Here’s the good news:

(a) despite the fact that you will detest some (ok, maybe many) of the suggestions, in the end your piece is really going to look better

(b) if someone asked you to include information that you already included don’t tell them this. just say, “I have included this on Page X.” Even if it was there the whole time, and they just missed it, now they think you included it. You win.

You may find one revision that you just cannot do. It might be that it doesn’t work for the piece. For me, in a recent revise and resubmit, I flat out didn’t have space. I had the classic case of reviewers wanting me to leave everything in but adding more to it. That’s not physically possible. I trimmed down what I could, worked in what I thought were the most relevant revisions, and then explained I didn’t have the space for one of them. I said I would be glad to add it if someone could tell me what they would like me to take out. Guess what? The piece went to accept and I never had to add it.

Be Reasonable

In thinking about how to handle your revisions, understand that it’s normal to get emotional about them. We put a lot of time and effort into our writing, and it’s easy to take feedback personally. But it’s not personal. It’s all about improving a great idea (YOUR great idea) and making it better. Everything you add or delete is in service to the manuscript and in service to getting your idea across. Reviewers and editors obviously thought you had a great idea or they would have rejected you outright. Remember that.

So yes, you have to do the revisions. But know that there’s probably one in there that won’t make a lot of sense. You can skip that one. Be reasonable. Pick your battles. And make sure you acknowledge in your letter that you skipped it along with a reason why.

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