Saturday, 24 May 2008

Sample Cover Letter for Journal Manuscript Resubmissions

by Roy F. Baumeister

Dear Sir, Madam, or Other:

Enclosed is our latest version of Ms # 85-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamn running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers.

I shall skip the usual point-by-point description of every single change we made in response to the critiques. After all, it is fairly clear that your reviewers are less interested in details of scientific procedure than in working out their personality problems and sexual frustrations by seeking some kind of demented glee in the sadistic and arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power over helpless authors like ourselves who happen to fall into their clutches. We do understand that, in view of the misanthropic psychopaths you have on your editorial board, you need to keep sending them papers, for if they weren’t reviewing manuscripts they’d probably be out mugging old ladies or clubbing baby seals to death. Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you not ask him or her to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them the review process could be unduly delayed.

Some of the reviewers’ comments we couldn’t do anything about. For example, if (as review C suggested) several of my recent ancestors were indeed drawn from other species, it is too late to change that. Other suggestions were implemented, however, and the paper has improved and benefited. Thus, you suggested that we shorten the manuscript by 5 pages, and we were able to accomplish this very effectively by altering the margins and printing the paper in a different font with a smaller typeface. We agree with you that the paper is much better this way.

One perplexing problem was dealing with suggestions #13-28 by Reviewer B. As you may recall (that is, if you even bother reading the reviews before doing your decision letter), that reviewer listed 16 works that he/she felt we should cite in this paper. These were on a variety of different topics, none of which had any relevance to our work that we could see. Indeed, one was an essay on the Spanish-American War from a high school literary magazine. The only common thread was that all 16 were by the same author, presumably someone whom Reviewer B greatly admires and feels should be more widely cited. To handle this, we have modified the Introduction and added, after the review of relevant literature, a subsection entitled “Review of Irrelevant Literature” that discusses these articles and also duly addresses some of the more asinine suggestions in the other reviews.

We hope that you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency. You ought to be in a cage. May whatever heritage you come from be the butt of the next round of ethnic jokes. If you do accept it, however, we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process and to express our appreciation of your scholarly insights. To repay you, we would be happy to review some manuscripts for you; please send us the next manuscript that any of these reviewers submits to your journal.

Assuming you accept this paper, we would also like to add a footnote acknowledging your help with this manuscript and to point out that we liked the paper much better the way we originally wrote it but you held the editorial shotgun to our heads and forced us to reshuffle, restate, hedge, expand, shorten, and in general convert a meaty paper into stir-fried vegetables. We couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have done it without your input.


[This was sent to me a couple of years ago, when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of Cognition. I wrote to Roy to establish the provenance of this piece (and to ask permission to reproduce it here), and he told me this was written over 20 years ago, "I wrote it to work out some of my own frustrations with the review process back then. I think it is my most widely read publication, and not even listed on my CV!"]

Thursday, 15 May 2008

this isn't a blog - this is therapy.

Things I must remember to do when I have more time: damn, I've forgotten what one does when one has more time.

Various remedies I have tried with the intention of rediscovering the many uses of spare time: chocolate, a 32" HD LCD TV, an HD DVD recorder, more chocolate, the lawnmower, consulting to Nestlé to help them make chocolate more efficiently, looking through the local phone book with my children searching for people with funny names (our thanks to the Rev. W.Ankers), de-algaefying the pond, ice cream, making up words for removing algae from the pond, more chocolate (a lot more - thanks to Nestlé), beer, waking up way too early in the mornings...

Truth is, I spend too much time working. But, it has its rewards. So I shall indulge myself and just write down some statistics about the journal I edit: submissions are up 25% since when I took over 2 years ago. But most likely nothing to do with me. But it means that this year so far, I have sent around 150 manuscripts out to review, and have made around 220 editorial decisions. That means that, one way or another, I've dealt with almost three manuscripts each day, 7 days a week... boy, I so deserved that tv...(though I forgot, when I bought it, that I wouldn't have time to watch it...). I currently take on just over 50% of the submissions coming in to the journal, with the remainder being shared out amongst 4 Associate Editors (another will join soon). And their loads, although a whole bunch less than mine, are still above the industry standard. So it's hard work for all of us. Still, I do get some research done, so I have also, this year, written an article that I've just submitted (to a different journal), co-written an article which should be submitted within days (to yet another journal), and almost finished an article that's also going to go off soon (though this one has been on my desk for almost TWO years). So life could be worse. Though if it were, I wouldn't have the time to notice...

A tip for prospective authors sending in manuscripts to the journal: If it's a revised version of a previously submitted manuscript, make sure you turn off the comments facility in your word processor - if you don't, we'll get to see them; I very much enjoyed reading, recently, the comments in the margins of one such manuscript - evidently, the senior author didn't think much of one of the reviewers, and wrote this as a comment to the more junior author. The comment included the suspicion that the editor would in any case be unlikely to notice that they hadn't changed that section...

A final, serious, note. All this work does take its toll, and I think the people whom I am privileged to work with, and with whom I share so much of my life, have to put up with a lot. I wouldn't be able to do this without their support, professionally and personally.

postscript: I know.... another whiny post. But it was this or nothing.