September 18, 2013 | by Mike Reid
Revised: January 16, 2013
Accepted: February 6, 2013
Published: March 14, 2013
Those four lines sum up my first extensive experience with the review process — long, challenging but overall positive. It is remarkable how different the original manuscript is from the final version. There were three reviewers and in total about 50 additional experiments requested. Some of the questions and comments overlapped, but a large majority was independent. This is because our paper had several different themes and the editorial office sent the manuscript to three individuals in different fields and with different expertise to critique it. The first version that we submitted had no supplemental figures, while the final version contained seven. The original main figures had only a handful of panels, but after extensive revisions they almost contained more than could fit within the guidelines (one PowerPoint slide in the vertical orientation). I cannot tell you how many hours were spent performing all the new experiments, writing responses to every comment, editing the main text to include all the reviewers’ points, and formatting all these figures.
Although it may seem like my experience is a horror story, it was actually the opposite. First, it was very humbling and eye opening to see all the comments because they were indeed valid points. When you spend every day working on your project, sometimes you don’t always realize the weaknesses. The anonymous review process means that the reviewer can say whatever they want and what they truly believe. So in other words, it was great to see how people really felt about our work. A lot of times in seminars or poster sessions the audience may ask good questions, but very rarely will the questions be as aggressive or penetrating as an anonymous reviewer. Second, the final version of the manuscript is exponentially better than the original. Having read all the reviewers’ comments, it was clear to me that a lot of time and effort was put in on their part in order to protect the integrity of the journal, but also to help us out. There were experiments requested that led to much stronger evidence in support of our conclusions than we ever had in the original version. There were references pointed out to us by the reviewers that we used to explain some of our results or to be incorporated into the discussion. They even offered alternative explanations to some of our results that we ended up including in the final text. So for that, I am very thankful to the reviewers.
No news is good news. That’s a saying you will hear when it is time to submit your own manuscript. These days, it’s a big deal just to have your paper sent out for review. When you go to the journal’s website and submit your new manuscript, it gets screened by a board of editors and they determine if they should send it out for review. So when you send your own manuscript and you don’t hear back from the editorial office for a couple weeks, that is a very good sign. Even if you can’t answer all the reviewers’ comments and get it published in that journal, I can guarantee you that the comments you receive will greatly benefit you and enhance the significance of the project. So stay positive, keep working hard and always look on the bright side. There are so many journals out there and eventually you will find one that fits your manuscript. My undergraduate mentor always used to say to me, “Mike, a career in science is a marathon,” and I truly could not fully appreciate that comment until going through this process.