Even if you've been tweaking your manuscript for months, it's probably not perfect in the eyes of journal editors and reviewers. Chances are, you'll need to put many more hours of work into your research paper before it goes to press—work that can include additional data analysis and even reframing your hypotheses. Here are some examples of psychology students who took reviewer comments to heart, made their papers stronger and eventually saw their results published in top journals.
The following is excerpted from the final text of a March Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (Vol. 14, No. 1) article led by Raj Ratwani, PhD, who at the time of the manuscript's submission and review was a psychology graduate student at George Mason University. The study examines how the brain integrates cognitive and visual information when we view graphs and proposes ways to improve graph design to promote quicker comprehension.
Tip your hat to your predecessors. Ratwani's original literature review discussed the limitations of a previously studied task model, but the journal's editor and reviewers said his approach was too combative. They suggested that he take a more constructive approach and explore how the model emphasized different variables from his own model.
Appeal to a wide audience. At the suggestion of reviewers, Ratwani expanded his literature review to include additional articles showing how researchers have applied integration theories to graph comprehension, which they felt was relevant to his research question. "I had come at it from more of a cognitive science approach, focused on theory, but they wanted more of an applied psychology/human factors twist," Ratwani recalls.
Back up your data. When the reviewer asked him to include other applied articles, Ratwani says he knew he would need to add performance measures to his study. This is the part of the resubmission that took the most time, he says, because it required analyzing his data in a new way to develop a scale for what qualified as good, medium and bad performance. "Because one experimenter might be biased in doing this, you have to have another person code some of the data as well, independently," he says.
Describe how your study fits into the big picture. Ratwani's original discussion section did not include theoretical or practical implications, but the reviewers asked him to place his findings in a broader context. "They wanted us to provide some design principles that could be gained from our research, particularly in light of the citations that we'd added," he says.
The following is excerpted from a September Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice (Vol. 12, No. 3) article led by Joseph R. Miles, a counseling psychology graduate student at the University of Maryland. The study finds that leaders of a group who share similar views of the world can help develop positive group dynamics.
Spell things out, even when you think they're clear. Miles's editor and reviewers asked him to provide an overarching framework for the paper and to make his hypotheses more overt. "We needed to be more explicit in how we were taking those strong I/O findings and applying them in a new way to group intervention research," he says. To do that, Miles listed his research questions as hypotheses and added more information on how previous research informed his conclusions.
Cut the jargon. The editor asked Miles to rewrite his complex, technical description of network analysis into a brief tutorial for readers who may have never heard of it. His revision not only made the concept more clear, it also shortened the section by about half a page, he says. He then had room to add two figures to the manuscript to help illustrate the model.
Own up to weaknesses. The authors added this language to the discussion after the reviewers pointed out that the section didn't mention how the study's low participation and response rates may have affected their results. "The reviewers were concerned about the generalizability of our findings and the representativeness of our respondents, both important critiques," Miles says. "Including an acknowledgment of this in the discussion helps readers to keep this information about our study in mind when interpreting it."
By Amy Novotney