METM23 presentation

Defending a paper: review of literature on the “point-by-point reply” and tips for supportive author editing

Mary Ellen Kerans, Barcelona, Spain

Authors submitting papers to high-ranked peer-reviewed journals can well feel pleased these days if their manuscript moves past the “desk-rejection” hurdle and is sent out for peer review: they can then hope the handling editor will invite them to revise and defend their paper by replying to reviewers’ “points.” For authors in competitive research disciplines or targeting a prestigious journal in any discipline, this second hurdle of writing a convincing point-by-point (P×P) reply can take almost as much time and effort as drafting the original submission.

P×P letters were once an occluded genre* – defined by John Swales as one unseen by outsiders and apprentices. Although advice on how to compose these critical texts is now online, novice authors (the “apprentices”) can still be taken by surprise if they’ve mainly observed writing from peripheral authorship roles (the “middle-author” positions). Similarly, if “outsiders” like authors’ editors are only peripherally involved, the complexity of these high-stakes letters may remain occluded to them.

Many authors need support from manuscript editors at this stage. In this talk, besides giving a review of the literature and online “how-to” advice on P×P replies, I will discuss how I give support and show examples of problems and solutions. Briefly, I start by interviewing authors new to me to gauge their attitudes toward the quality of the review, the feasibility of revising the paper, and their readiness to manage its defense. I then make suggestions for arranging the replies according to the extensiveness of anticipated revisions. Eventually I edit the letter against the manuscript. I will discuss missteps I’ve seen and what I do when I find a mismatch between an author’s reply and a reviewer’s point. The session’s purpose is to show how to go beyond online P×P templates, which often encourage overuse of frequent phrases. Our ultimate goal, the authors’ goal, is a letter that functions as sincere, convincing author–reviewer dialog between peers.

*Swales J. (1996) “Occluded Genres in the Academy: The Case of the Submission Letter”. In: Academic Writing: Intercultural and Textual Issues. Eds. E. Ventola and A. Mauranen. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 45-58.
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About the presenter

Mary Ellen Kerans is a freelance authors’ editor and translator who works mainly but not exclusively with clinical scientists. Her career has also included in-house and freelance work for publishers, plus many years of English language teaching, especially English for specific purposes and academic writing at various levels. A unifying thread in her approach to working with authors or teaching – whether in traditional settings like universities or in factories or hospitals – is finding a process-oriented way to help learners achieve their goals.