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Editorial Responsibility for Revision 

Editorial Responsibility for Revision
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Editorial Responsibility for Revision

The editor’s impartial focus on improving a manuscript faciliates the process of revision. According to Morgan,11 “in letters requesting revision the editor should use an impersonal tone in criticizing.” All such communication is best if the tone is objective and constructive. Editors should clearly communicate to authors what is expected in a revision; it may be helpful for editors to request that authors submit revised manuscripts with changes, additions, and deletions indicated and a cover letter itemizing the changes made in response to the editor’s and reviewers' comments and suggestions.

Editors are obligated to use sound editorial reasoning in requesting a revision. Editors must be skilled in arbitrating reviewer disagreements and reconciling contradictory recommendations, which may result from reviewers having diverse backgrounds, different expectations of the journal, and variable levels of expertise, diligence, or interest in the subject of the manuscript.11 Authors object to receiving inconsistent or contradictory comments from reviewers and editors and may object to new and different criticisms of the revised manuscript submitted in response to the initial review. Although editors can never be certain that new issues will not surface at the time of resubmission, they are obliged to evaluate all reviewer comments, address any inconsistencies or unreasonable criticisms, censor any inappropriate criticisms, and guide authors in preparing their revisions.4,8 Editors who make decisions about publication should never relegate themselves to the role of manuscript traffic controllers by simply passing on reviewer comments without direction for the revision or by permitting reviewers' recommendations to serve as the editor’s decision.

Some editors feel uncomfortable asking an author to revise a manuscript if there is a possibility that the revision will not be published. However, a revision may be needed to permit an author to provide missing data or information or to more clearly describe the study or work being reported so that the editor can properly evaluate the manuscript. The revision may also expose an important weakness, limitation, or flaw that was not apparent in the original submission and that necessitates a decision to reject. Alternatively, a revision may introduce new issues or concerns or simply may not be satisfactory. In each of these cases, the editor’s responsibility to readers outweighs any obligation to publish the author’s revised manuscript. Editors should develop specific policies regarding requests for revisions, and the revision letter should state explicitly whether the author should or should not expect publication of a satisfactorily revised manuscript.4 For example, JAMA editors include language similar to the following in their revision letters:

If you decide to revise your paper along these lines, there is no guarantee that it will be accepted for publication. That decision will be based on our editorial priorities at the time, the quality of your revision, and perhaps additional peer review.

The rejection of a revised manuscript is probably best handled with a personal letter tactfully explaining why the revision was not acceptable. Although editors may need to ask for multiple revisions of a paper, such requests should include a detailed explanation to the authors. In most cases, these efforts serve to give the authors the best chance for their paper to reach a level of quality that is appropriate for acceptance and publication.

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