I have written before about the “long road to publication” and “five things I have learned about writing”, but perhaps one of the hardest lessons I have learned to date is “Reviewer #2 is always right”.
There are many internet memes about the notorious Reviewer #2, the nemesis of the would-be author, who seems to wilfully misunderstand the argument of the article, require citations of literature that are irrelevant or suggest numerous edits while warning of the word limit. We have all had “that” reviewer and oddly, it is often the second reviewer in the list.
We are mentored not to take the comments personally: do the work, write a document to accompany the changes, and provide a rationale as to why or why they were not addressed. There is a form a blind dialogue that occurs as this document is mediated by the editor to the reviewers, to keep the identities of both parties on either side a secret.
We have all (except for the newest among us) been a reviewer. It is part of the service we render to the academy. Yet, I would hope that we keep our own experience with “reviewer #2” in mind when we write our responses. I would hope that we strive to explain ourselves with respect for the person who will be receiving the comments, writing as though that person were sitting across the table from us.
Despite my previous experience with reviewers and being a reviewer, I was shocked and unprepared for a recent article submission experience a colleague and I had. We submitted an article to a journal we had chosen based on considerable research into the aims and scope and a look at sample articles on similar topics. We sent a query to the editor as to the suitability of our article based on an abstract and it was received favorably. So, we sent off our manuscript and were delighted when we received a response of “accept with revisions”. There was a considerable list of desired revisions, but we were asked to submit within 30 days, which gave us hope that a publication was forthcoming. We addressed all of the concerns from two reviews in a table format and highlighted them in the revised article for easy of reading. The response from reviewer # 1 came quickly. A few small changes were required. We did those and awaited reviewer #2. Approximately one week later we heard from the editor that reviewer #2 felt we hadn’t addressed the changes and therefore the recommendation was “rejection”.
What? That’s it? We were stunned. We grieved, we complained, we regrouped. We asked our colleagues for advice. Although many had never heard of such a turn of events, a few had. We wrote the editor for an explanation and what we learned was that she had to guard her relationship with her reviewers such that there would be no recourse, no third reviewer, no editorial override. If Reviewer #2 said “rejected!”, there was nothing to do, but lick our wounds and move on.
This incident is too fresh for me to convey all of the learning that will come from it, but for the time being I am reminded that editors value their reviewers and if they have to pick sides, it will be the side of the reviewer. As someone who reviews as well, I in turn, need to have the humility to realize the work and effort authors put into their work and their revisions and remain aware of the great responsibility the role carries. Meanwhile, my co-author and I have resubmitted to a different journal. The waiting game begins again.
Update: the article was accepted and published in the second journal:
Tweedie, M.G., & Dressler, R. (2018). Visual aids as response facilitators in dialogue journals. Language and Literacy. 20(2), 125-143. doi:10.20360/langandlit29182