Reviewer 3… was RIGHT!

I’m just taking a pass at revising a paper I haven’t really looked at in about six months. I’m coming to a sobering realization: reviewer 3 was right! The paper did deserve to be rejected because of the way it was written and, in spots, poor presentation.

I’ve noticed this before but this was a pretty good example. The paper was originally reviewed for a conference and the bulk of the critique was that it was hard to understand and that some of the data that should have been there wasn’t presented. Because I didn’t get a shot at resubmitting (being a conference) I decided to do a bit more analysis and quickly realized that a lot of the results I’d come up with (but not all) weren’t valid. Or rather, they didn’t validate in another dataset. The reviewers didn’t catch that but it meant that I shelved the paper for awhile until I had time to really revise.

Now I’ve redone the analysis, updated with results that actually work, and have been working on the paper. There are lots of places in the paper where I clearly was blinded to my own knowledge at the time- and I think that’s very common. That is, I presented ideas and results without adequate explanation. At the time it all made sense to me because I was in the moment- but now it seems confusing, even to me. One reviewer stated that the paper is “difficult for me to assess its biological significance in its current form” and another that “I find the manuscript difficult to follow.” Yet another noted that the paper, “lacks a strong biological hypothesis”, which was mainly due to poor presentation on my part.

There were some more substantive comments as well- and I’m addressing those in my revision but this was a good wake-up call for someone like me who has a number of manuscripts under their belt, to be more careful about reading my own work with a fresh eye and having more colleagues or collaborators read my work before it goes in. One thing that I like to do (but often don’t do) is to have someone not involved with the manuscript or the project take a read over the paper. That way you get really fresh eyes – like those of a reviewer – that can point out places where things just don’t add up. Wish me luck for the next round with this paper!

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