Lisa: Welcome, welcome. Today, Blake and I, want to talk about decision letters, which at RHM is the letter that we write that accompanies the decision on your manuscript.
Blake: We take more of a hands-on approach than many journals across writing and communication. By that we mean, our letters summarize what we feel are the major points that need to be addressed when revising manuscripts. They also include our own editorial review.
The purpose is to synthesize points that will improve the manuscript and to help prioritize the revisions.
Lisa: So in some ways, you’re getting a super charged review because it has the two anonymous reviewers, but also mine and Blake’s view as well. As with most things at RHM the journal, the decision letter is a collaborative process, and we’re going to try and explain how they are written.
Blake: After we get the reviews back, we decide who will write the initial draft of the decision. That is based on our own workloads like who has more time at that moment but it also considers other things how the topic or focus of the manuscript aligns with our own knowledge and interests.
Lisa: But that’s only the first little decision. During that initial conversation we will often discuss but not yet decide what the decision should be, especially if the reviews are split, and also discuss what points we’re going to prioritize and highlight in the decision letter. Sometimes this is pretty simple when reviews are complementary, but often it’s a little harder to parse through not only what the reviews are highlighting, but what will in fact make the piece a strong contribution to the literature. In some cases, we have a different take than one or more reviewer, and so we discuss how to handle that.
Blake: The majority of our decision letters are 2-3 pages, highlighting 3-5 major areas that need attention and offering specific suggestions and resources for doing so, both from the reviewers and own our readings. Depending on the area, sometimes we are fairly directive, and sometimes we offer multiple options for responding to the reviews. We always include the reviewer’s comments at the end of the decision letter, and we highlight the sections of these that we want the author to pay closest attention to. When a reviewer also sends us annotated comments in the manuscript itself, we also de-identify and pass those along, something with our own annotations. Once the letter is drafted, it is shared in the common space for the other editor to revise and edit.
Lisa: I think it’s important we pause here for a moment and talk about what we mean by 3-5 major areas.
Blake: Yes, you’re exactly right. Because those areas are the main focus of the decision letter.
Lisa: Most of you reading or listening to this have received reviews without any sort of editorial guidance. The most talked about experience is the ubiquitous split review where authors struggle with how to proceed because the advice is contradictory. That’s why we write decision letters. To assist authors in the revision process by synthesizing, highlighting, and explaining the most important areas for revision.
Blake: Maybe we’ve just been incredibly fortunate at RHM, but in most cases, those major areas are pretty easy to pick out based on the reviews. For example, we often include sections about clarifying and foregrounding the major argument, further engaging with relevant scholarly conversations (especially from RHM), unpacking methodological decisions and moves, and teasing out the implications of a study for scholars and other stakeholders.
Lisa: So pointing out and explaining what the major areas that will improve the manuscript is the primary goal of the decision letter. This is also an extension of our RHM philosophy to make the editorial work of a journal more transparent and more importantly, to mentor through editorial work.
Blake: Absolutely. One last thing that we circle back to, and for the authors it’s the most important part, that is the actual decision on the manuscript. We’ve only had a couple where the reviewers agreed on the decision. This is one of the main roles of editors is to be the deciding voice on the actual decision.
Lisa [interjects] : See Lisa’s video on the types of decisions we have.
Blake: It’s important to say out loud that Lisa and I don’t always agree, but that’s one of the reasons we have worked so well together. We are good at listening and we try really hard to incorporate the spirit and focus of the reviews. Our reviewers have been excellent, which makes the decision writing much easier.
Lisa: We also share our decision letters and both reviews with the reviewers. It’s always helpful for folks to see how others approach the review process and how they do constructive reviews. Developing this process has also prompted us to create additional guidelines for what makes a strong and helpful review.
Blake: I guess that’s the best way of saying what our philosophy is for the decision letter. We’re trying to be as constructive and helpful as possible. But we also maintain high standards. I think you could ask any of the authors who have received a letter that they are a mix of strong, but helpful critiques.
Lisa: We’ve attached two annotated decision letters here, one after a first round of review, and the second after a second round of review of a revised and resubmitted manuscript. We asked both reviewers and the author for their permission so you can have an insider’s view on the original manuscript and the decision letter.
Following are two examples of decision letters.
DeTora (click the name to link to google doc of decision letter)
Dr. DeTora's essay appeared in our first issue. The decision letter atached is from the original submission. Dr. DeTora used the letter to revise, and we sent her essay back to one of the original reviewers. Based on her revision, her manuscript was accept after the first round of revisions.
Kalin and Gruber (click the names to link to google doc of decision letter)
Dr. Kalin and Dr. Gruber's essay will appear in our second issue. The decision letter atached is after the first revision of this essay. Dr. Kalin and Gruber had already done a substantial revision, and they did the suggestions in this letter and then a minor revision to get it to the point of the published version.