Conversations with colleagues suggest there’s no consensus on how to reply to a journal editor’s request to “revise and resubmit”, accompanied by a sheaf of referees’ reports. I offer here some of my own suggestions of how to write a letter to a journal (or perhaps book) editor. Proposed prose is in plain text; its translation is in italics. It’s probably better not to confuse the two if you choose to apply this example.
This is meant to be a suaviter in modo approach. Your personal preferences or substantial convictions may lead you in a different direction. Broadly, I suggest turning these requests around as swiftly as possible, and opting not to address too directly the incompetence or rudeness (if any) of referees; you’ll see the kind of thing I mean below, I hope. In this venue I think it’s better simply to turn the blade than to strike back in kind.
1. Opening paragraph.
Thank you very much for your encouraging letter of two weeks ago
I am prompt, efficient, even eager. [This does of course require that one be prompt, efficient, and even eager.]
and for your and your readers’ thoughtful—and promptly supplied—comments on my manuscript, “xxx.”
Hey, we both know your referees took nine months responding to a 7,000-word typescript. Nevertheless, not so long ago you said you wanted possibly to publish my article, and I’m taking you up, politely, on that possibility.
I am pleased that the essay engaged its readers on a variety of levels, and that they believed it worth serious consideration.
I notice the comments came from all over the map—but this is a positive thing!—and I notice they all went on at some length.
I am especially grateful for their various kind remarks on the essay’s style and importance.
Remember, a lot of them said nice things about the essay.
I was glad, too, to find in your comments and those of the readers opportunities to strengthen the essay,
I am taking the peer-review process seriously
and I have on your advice revised it and am enclosing the new version with the letter.
I’ve done my part, as you suggested.
I summarize below the substantive changes I’ve made.
2. Some mention of specific important revisions then follows.
In response to reader D’s concerns about x, I substantiated statements about the intentions of those policymakers who supported x, including direct quotation on [pages of my manuscript].
Reader D disputed some of my assumptions, which I thought too commonplace to need substantiation. I’ve now put in substantiation to show that I am right and Reader D is wrong.
In keeping with reader A’s concerns about the narrative of Q’s career, I have modified my discussion about the political context of Q’s activities, and added some supporting citations from Q’s biographer and from the historians of the Department of Things Q Worked On.
Reader A said I made factual errors about x’s career. Reader A is wrong, and I have added quotations from knowledgeable authorities to show it.
In response to reader Z’s concerns about the innovations made in [a certain methodology] in the 1930s and after, I have included mention that the narrative here precedes those innovations, and that my interest lies in the political and cultural concerns revealed by the confusion that reigned prior to the application of [those] techniques.
Reader Z wanted me to write about the 1930s. I am interested in the 1910s, which is a different decade. Reader Z also wanted me to write a wholly different kind of essay, an institutional history of technical methods. I am not interested in writing something like that, partly because I am confident your journal would sooner set itself on fire than publish it.
I hope these revisions allow the piece to fulfill the promise that you and the readers have seen in it: that I have clarified the insights you found engaging and preserved the clarity and style on which the readers remarked. Certainly I have tried to make it of interest to the wide audience your journal addresses, and I hope very much you will find that it merits publication there.
Remember, you liked it. And even though you sent it to six referees, all of them found something to like in it. I’ve been cooperative and respectful rather than combative. And I’ve made substantive revisions and documented them in this two-page letter, so I’ve done what a reasonable person could be expected to do; please God decide that it’s enough.
I’m confident y’all will have your own suggestions, disagreements, and so forth.