Thursday, April 8, 2010

NSMB editorial: "Making your point-by-point"

In the April 2010 issue of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology [NSMB, 17(4)], there is another interesting editorial, titled "Making your point-by-point". This editorial addresses an important issue in the process of publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals, that is: how to make effective point-by-point response to "those ever-demanding editors and reviewers"?
Overall, it can be helpful to put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes and compose a response s/he would find appropriate, where the concerns raised are considered and fully addressed. In its ideal state, the review process is a positive and constructive back and forth, an intellectual discussion in which the manuscript is the ultimate beneficiary.

Here is my re-cap of the main points, as I understand it. I am also taking this opportunity to read this one-page editorial one more time.

What to do?

  • Keep to the point – "makes a series of [succinct] points in response [directly] to each point raised by the reviewers."
  • Keep it objective – be diplomatic in your point-by-point response to the reviewers, "even if the reviewer’s wording might have seemed overly strong." You could be forthright in your cover letter to the editors, though.
  • Keep things under control – "Know when to go to the bench and when to argue."
  • The scope of things – "Say clearly and succinctly" when "some requests might genuinely be beyond the scope of the manuscript or might simply be unfeasible." "Try not to salami-slice", one strong and solid paper is (much) better than two weak ones!

Some don'ts, especially:

  • Mentioning celebrity endorsements. "you never know—they could be moonlighting as your most critical anonymous reviewer."
  • Trying to guess who the reviewers are when communicating to the editors – it does not help. Additionally, you could be plain wrong in your guess (again, you never know) – they are anonymous, literally.
Generally speaking, I think authors should be appreciative of the work of the reviewers and editors. Occasionally, I serve as a reviewer and I know the time and efforts it takes to make a fair and thorough assessment of a manuscript.

It is certainly not just because of politeness that in our 2008 3DNA Nature Protocols paper, we acknowledged:
We also thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers whose comments helped to clarify the presentation of the protocols.
More recently, in our 2010 NAR GpU paper, we acknowledged:
They also thank the anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped clarify the presentation of the manuscript.