Handling Revisions: Publishing Lessons from the Expert
March 12, 2015
By Amanda Milburn
The 2015 Ontario Exercise Physiology (OEP) Conference took place February 27-March 1. Terry Graham, editor of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, presented a workshop on publishing and careers. This is the first in a series of guest posts by students who attended the workshop. Canadian Science Publishing sponsored the workshop.
Dr. Terry Graham returned this year to run another academic workshop at OEP as a continuation to last year’s workshop. Many people, including myself, were very excited to hear what he had to say. After all, Terry is an expert in the field with 14 years as an editor for the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism under his belt as well as his experience in the world of academia as a professor at the University of Guelph. Many call him a celebrity in the field and I, according to my supervisor, am lucky to get to call him my “academic grandfather”. I learned many great things from Terry over the weekend, including some great stories about his life. Here, I will focus on the lessons he taught about handling revisions to a manuscript submitted to a journal.
Many of you might have already gone through the exciting, yet daunting, act of preparing a manuscript. You must have put hours, months, even years into collecting and analyzing your data and writing up the final article to present all of your hard work. After edits from each of your co-authors, the last step to a great new publication is hearing back from the associate editor of the journal. In the letter received from the editor will either be a number of revisions or a complete rejection. That sounds pretty nerve wrecking to me but one thing I never put much thought into until Terry’s workshop is the fact that the associate editor of the journal had to chose 2 to 3 academics to review these articles, and that these 2 or 3 people did so completely for free. I know how busy professionals in the academic world are, so for them to take the time to review papers is quite impressive to me. One thing Terry highlighted in his talk is that the reviewers are simply trying to help make your paper better and so, every comment should be viewed as a piece of advice rather than simply criticism.
After the first glance at the revisions, Terry mentions it is important to take 24 hours before diving into the edits. It may take this long for you to understand (accept) that there are flaws with your manuscript and that the comments are meant to strengthen your paper. The next piece of advice he gave was to organize the comments from the reviewers. Some comments may conflict with each other so it is good to take a look at them all before tackling them in order. It may also help to list them in order of importance. For example, grammatical errors are less serious while comments about the way statistics were run are more severe.
Terry also mentioned that the associate editor will often times give hints in the cover letter of more pertinent things to focus on getting done in order to get the article accepted. If there are some comments that you are confused or struck about, he suggests getting a second opinion from someone who has not seen the manuscript. A fresh pair of eyes often helps see things that you may have missed or misunderstood. If still confused, editors like Dr. Graham would be willing to take time out of their busy lives to help you out, if you asked politely! Being friendly and respectful will take you a lot further than an angry message ever will, Terry explained.
The next piece of advice - take your time and cover your butt. Don’t just write that you disagree with the comment but give reasons based on scientific evidence as to why you disagree. From what I gathered, the reviewers spent a lot of time coming up with comments so they will appreciate you taking them seriously.
Lastly, Terry mentions that although rare, sometimes authors will be asked to perform more experiments. What an awful comment to get after all of the work that has already been done! He says that the only way to get out of doing more experiments is to debate the comment by giving sound objective reasons for not doing additional work or providing examples of studies that have already performed this work.
I learned a great deal from Terry at the workshop and believe he could have continued providing insider tips for hours. The amount of knowledge he has gained over the years is astonishing and I’m glad we all got to benefit from it as well. Many people were curious to find out more and asked many questions during the discussion following the publishing lessons part of the talk (editor's note: some of the Q&As asked during and after the workshop will be presented in a subsequent post). All in all, the workshop was a great success!
Amanda Milburn is a second-year MSc student at the University of Waterloo in the department of Kinesiology. Her research investigates breast cancer patients and seeks to identify potential changes occurring in glucose metabolism as well as inflammatory markers and body composition following an exercise intervention. Amanda helped organize the OEP conference with most of her work done on the media and social committees.
About Dr. Terry Graham
Dr. Graham has been a journal editor for 14 years. A professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Guelph, his research areas are muscle glycogen regulation and postprandial responses to carbohydrate ingestion. He is an active member of both the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, the Canadian Physiological Society, and the Canadian Nutrition Society. Dr. Graham held an informal workshop at the Ontario Exercise Physiology conference in February 2014 and again in 2015. Here, he had the opportunity to speak with a number of grad students on writing and publishing as well as other important career considerations and opportunities.