This post continues my series on research articles (RAs). This time I’m addressing the all-important response to RA reviews. Mastering this genre is critical for anyone whose job includes publication in peer-reviewed journals. (If you want a little background, see this post.) When resubmitting a revised RA for potential publication, the authors must include a response to the reviews received on their initial submission, along with the revised RA.
One key to developing a document in this genre is for authors to get past their emotional reaction. Anger and frustration are normal emotional responses to RA reviews. But, like all professionals, researchers have to move past those emotions to be successful. Although it’s a challenge for all researchers to learn how to create this genre, non-native English speakers have even greater challenges. They are the target of much of the research on writing RAs and related genres as well as a host of author support services (like Editage.).
As usual, my approach to describing a genre builds on the ESP (English for Specific Purposes) practice of describing a set of rhetorical moves, each of which can often be broken down into more detailed steps.
Rhetorical Moves (Structure + Content) in Responses to RA Reviews
A document people recognize as a typical response to reviewers includes at least five rhetorical moves: (1) expressing gratitude, (2) signaling attention to the review comments, (3) claiming positive results, (4) previewing content, and (5) responding to specific comments. One additional move appears to be optional: (6) claiming solidarity. The table below breaks down those rhetorical moves into more detailed steps and provides examples from four actual samples. (Identifying information has been removed; I’ve used pseudonyms rather than titles of actual publications.)
A Comparison of Textual Elements
Details for the pattern of textual elements found within the four responses to reviews are summarized below.
|Style Elements||Tense||Past (simple & perfect) = high||1. We condensed the literature review . . .
2. While avoidance was a key aspect . . .
3. We have revised our paper . . .
4. . . . we have gone to great lengths . . .
|Present = mid to high||1. This is an important point . . .
2. We find the opposite result . . .
3. There is adequate evidence to . . .
4. We absolutely agree with . . .
5. We provide more detail below . . .
|Future = low||No examples identified|
|Passive||Usage = mid||1. This view is reinforced by B&S (2005) . . .
2. . . . it should be mentioned . . .
3. . . . participants were informed . . .1. Below, we describe the changes . . .
2. . . . we present cross-sectional regressions . . .
3. . . . we actually had some data . . .
|Pronouns||1st person = high||1. Below we have provided direct responses to the issues you raise . . .
2. We thank Reviewer A for the constructive comments . . .
3. We agree and have removed most of this discussion . . .
|2nd person = mid||1. Below we have provided direct responses to the issues you raise . . .
2. While your prior comments are focused on . . .
3. As you say . . .
|3rd person = low||1. Participants were informed . . . they would receive . . .
2. Discussions with managers . . . reveal that they typically ask . . .
3. . . . outlined by you and the reviewers . . .
4. As suggested by Reviewer B . . .
|Hedging||Usage = high||1. We feel the literature provides a clear . . .
2. We hope that we were more clear . . .
3. If we attempted to . . . it would have taken away from . . .
4. . . . we have tried to better explain . . .
5. For now, we have not delved deeply . . .
|Organization Elements||Headings||Usage = high||1. Editor Response Memo . . . Description of New Data . . . Responses to Reviewer A . . .
2. RC1-1 [Reviewer 1, Comment 1] . . . AR1-1 [Author Response to Reviewer 1, Comment 1] . . . RC1-2 . . . AR1-2 . . .
|Number or bullet lists||Usage = low||1. Responses to Reviewer A: (1) . . . (2) . . . (3) . . .|
|Page numbers or pointers||Usage = high||1. See new development on pp. 9-12 . . .
2. . . . they are stated in the 1st full paragraph on p.5.
3. We added such a table . . . (Table 2) . . .
4. We have rewritten Section 2.5 . . .
Usage of some style elements seems obvious for the rhetorical purposes within this genre. For instance, the relative importance of past tense and first person pronouns means that authors spent considerable time reporting what they had done: Move 2 (signaling attention to review comments) and Move 5, Step 5c (describing specific revisions). As another example, use of hedges was high because authors qualified their claims–in typical academic style. Authors in this genre also have to be careful to achieve a polite tone when disagreeing with referee comments.
Other aspects of style are less obvious. For example, note that, despite the frequent use of first person, passive voice was fairly common. This is true not because authors are unwilling to refer directly to themselves but because passive is a key tool in creating cohesion.
The four samples of this genre used lots of headings but few lists to organize their content. (I’ve sometimes used tables to organize the steps in Move 5.) The samples also used a multitude of page numbers or other pointers to link their response to RA reviews clearly to their revised manuscript. This is a key feature of successful documents in this genre. Authors are more likely to succeed when they make it easy for editors and referees to find what they’re looking for.
I haven’t located any research directly related to this genre. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!