Mon 19 Sep 2011
Remember the article on livelihoods I referenced in my last post? The one that has been through 13-odd reviewers over the past 6 months? Well, it came back this morning with that least satisfying of responses: revise and resubmit. The reviewers disagreed on the strengths and weaknesses of the paper, but all of them wanted at least some small changes.
Now, this is hardly the first time I’ve had to deal with this. Happens all the time. But this review, like a number of others I have encountered in my career, highlights for me the need for strong editors at journals. The email from the journal read, in part:
By the time of [the editorial board] meeting, we had received the reports of the external referees. You will find copies of their comments in the attached document. The editors feel that the referees have raised some important points and highlighted some shortcomings in the paper, which would need to be addressed through a round of revisions before we could proceed further. Please note that the editors are forwarding these comments as you might find them helpful; individual comments do not necessarily represent the views of the editors, or a consensus regarding the direction of any possible revision. [my emphasis].
Well, that’s just super. It amounts to “here are some comments, which might or might not be relevant. Good luck!” This gives the author nothing to work from, especially when some of the comments are contradictory.
So, a quick lesson for all of you budding academics out there. Letters like this require a response asking for clarification. I hammered out an email requesting a conversation with the editor. Yes, that’s right, you can talk to the editors! My first paragraph:
Thank you for forwarding the reviewer comments on my paper (Manuscript ID DECH-11-094 entitled “Livelihoods as Governmentality: Reframing the Logic of Livelihoods for Development”). I appreciate the time and effort the reviewers put into the paper, and the consideration the editorial board has given my submission. I would very much like to revise and resubmit this paper, but I need a bit of guidance if I am to do so in a productive manner. Ideally, I would like to talk with the editor in charge of this submission to resolve some of my ideas for revision, and some larger concerns before moving forward. I have summarized them, in a general sense, below:
(Note that this is polite – always be polite! It’s amazing how many people fail to do this.)
I then wrote 1500 words on what I proposed to do – with great specificity. I hope to speak directly to the editor myself soon. That way, I will know how s/he plans to treat the manuscript when they receive revisions, and how s/he views my suggestions – this is huge, as it will tell me what I can and cannot skip in the comments.
Oh, and one of the reviewers was a disaster – did not get the paper, wanted it to be the paper they would have written, etc. I headed this person off with the following paragraph:
The comments of reviewer 1 are external critique – that is, they demand that the paper be something other than what it is, do not acknowledge the stated goals of the paper, or whether or not the paper achieved those goals. The reviewer clearly did not engage with the core theory of the paper (for example in arguing the lit review was too confusing and should be cut down), instead demanding it be reframed as a gender analysis (which it is not) with relevance to policy (not the goal of this piece, which is more about foundational theory upon which policy statements might be constructed – policy relevance is also not a criteria for Development and Change). The reviewer appears to be upset because the paper is not the gender and development paper s/he would have written (incidentally, I already wrote a paper closer to what they wanted and published it in World Development about three years ago – this paper is in part an effort to move past the limitations of that analysis), and instead of looking at the literature I am drawing on, they simply demanded I reframe and cite all the things they think are important. Generally speaking, I try to take responsibility for moments when the reader becomes confused, treating this as a symptom of unclear writing or thinking on my part – I hope this is clear from my responses to the other reviewers’ comments. However, the complete disengagement of this review with the paper as it was written, coupled with reviewer 3’s assessment of the paper as well-written, suggests to me that this reviewer’s concerns cannot be addressed without writing a completely different paper – and that paper would not make much of a contribution anymore (something they acknowledge). Suggested edits: none
Yep, you can make the case for the removal of reviewers from a revise and resubmit – especially if they will never approve the paper for what it is.
I’ll keep you posted on progress . . .