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A few months ago, I submitted a paper to the top journal in my field. I just received a major revision decision. There was an enormous amount of comments from the four reviewers on many different aspects but all of them specifically doubt if the proposed system advances the state of the art or if it is useful among other things. In reality, It is a novel and interesting idea/concept but it does not make the numbers (performance) better as the reviewers suggested.

The associate editor said that they will consider publication only if they received convincing responses but the wording indicates they doubt that I will be able to do. I could attempt to address the comments but I feel like my chances are close to zero given the number of comments and the tone of the AE.

As our group recently submitted another paper that was rejected by the same AE, I feel like the AE did not just outright reject this one because they just rejected the one before. Hence, a major revision.

I understand that the consensus in the community in the case of revisions is that the AE sees value in the paper but that does seem to be the case here from my understanding.

My question: with the information above, would it be a good idea to skip the major revision and submit to another Journal? My concern here is time as it will likely take three more months to get a high likely reject.

Also, how likely is it for papers to get rejected after major revisions?

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    There is a reason why publishing in “Top” journals prestigious! – The Guy Mar 23 '20 at 11:58
  • I wouldn't read into the tone of the sentence. It could be written in a rush. Write a good response to address comments from reviewers, and see that happens next. In general, you should always resubmit if you are provided an opportunity to do so. – Prof. Santa Claus Mar 23 '20 at 19:01
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Your call, of course. Either would be a step forward. But consider how much the revision will actually improve the paper. If a lot, then it is to your advantage to just do it, no matter where you submit. All suggestions should be, at least, considered for revision, as usual.

And a new submission will take its own time, of course. And a "top journal in the field" is probably worth some effort and even time.

As for the last question, each paper is different and each editor is different. A general answer does you little good. It is your paper that you care about.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I do appreciate it! – user18244 Mar 22 '20 at 22:12
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    Also consider that it is not uncommon that some of the reviewers will be the same if you submit to another journal. Both editor try to choose reviewers that have something useful to say about your paper, so the pool tends to be pretty small. If I have spent time giving you advise, and see the paper again while ignoring all the advise I gave you, I will get annoyed. That does not mean you have to do everthing I say, but there has to be some improvement. – Maarten Buis Mar 23 '20 at 9:26
  • @MaartenBuis Yes, or in other words, the question should not be whether to revise the manuscript, but where to send the revised version. – TooTea Mar 24 '20 at 12:18
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It is implicitly assumed that you have interpreted the AE's tone/intention correctly- however, that may still be worth re-evaluating, along with someone familiar with the field and journal. It is also assumed that the primary objection from reviewers is about the performance of the proposed method/approach, not its technical soundness or viability.

Now, top journals in different fields are often inclined towards different objectives. Some favor novelty, while others favor performance/application. You must first establish where this journal's preferences lie (this would be based on recent publication history). It seems like your work is more on the novel (but not necessarily high-performing) end. If the journal frequently accepts this kind of work, you should absolutely respond, and build a strong case around the novelty of your approach. This should stand out in the response/rebuttal to reviewers as well as in the manuscript itself.

A little effort here could go a long way.

On the other hand, if you find that your work and the journal's preference are fundamentally mismatched, you may like to withdraw, re-work it according to the other reviewer suggestions, and then submit to a more appropriate journal. Make sure to use these reviewer reports gainfully to improve the manuscript!

Good luck!

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    Thanks a lot for this answer. The objection is, indeed, regarding performance. The reviewers seem to agree with and understand the technical content. They ask for some clarification and details here and there but that does not seem to be the objection. This journal requires both novelty and an advance in performance and my paper propose a novel concept but not a high performing one. I will try to put emphasis on this aspect if I end up resubmitting. I will try to evaluate with the help of some with experience with this journal as suggested. Thanks again for the insight! – user18244 Mar 22 '20 at 22:06
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    @user18244 - Depending on your field, a novel approach sometimes implies room for iterative improvement in the future, whereas existing concepts have already been iterated on to the point of severely-diminishing returns. If your novel approach leaves room for iterative improvement, then stressing that fact may soften the reviewers' stances somewhat. – Aiken Drum Mar 23 '20 at 9:50
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If you genuinely think that you can make a compelling case that, with the revisions you will make, the paper is important enough for the top journal, then resubmitting the paper is probably a good idea.

I had this happen to me once with a submission to a top journal, where all the referees asked for revisions, and I also got a note from the associate editor that they were concerned that the work, even if correct and revised in accordance with the referees suggestions, would not be important enough for that journal. However, it happened that when I did the revisions, adding in the analysis of an additional case, I found that the technique I was using could improve the state of the art in that new case by a large margin. So, when I resubmitted the manuscript, with the new cases added and other changes made, I pointed out specifically in my cover letter that the concerns about importance raised by the associate editor should also have been addressed—because the new case was such an improvement over preexisting work. This kind of clear statement, explaining why the associate editor's concerns were unwarranted, was key to getting the paper published.

However, I have had other papers rejected by the same top journal, because the referees and/or editors told me that the research was not important enough. And if I did not feel that I could make a convincing case that they had underestimated the work, I moved on and submitted the manuscripts to somewhat lower-ranked journals.

You have to take a hard look and see whether you can really make a compelling case that your work belongs in that journal. It can sometimes be difficult to be give a really honest and detached evaluation of whether your own work meets that threshold. So getting frank feedback from a colleague about the quality of your work may be useful. Moreover, as in my case described above, it may not be possible to make that evaluation until you have completed (or at least sketched out) the revisions the referees have called for.

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The tone of AE merely stems from the reviewer's comments. In general, the editor does not read the paper in detail. In your case, there is a big amount of comments from four reviewers and all of them, unanimously, have questioned the novelty of your approach. But this does not necessarily mean rejection. In fact, they have given you another chance to convince them.

In my opinion, try to make a systematic revision and address all the reviewers' comments. In particular, try to focus on the advantages of your approach and also clarify the objective of your study. So that the reviewers would know that you were aware of the weaknesses of your approach in the first place, however, your target was to introduce a new idea/concept.

Bear in mind that it won't take very long for the reviewers to judge your revised manuscript after resubmitting, as they all have read it carefully before.

Regarding submitting to another journal, I don't think it is a wise decision at this stage. As you say, the journal that you chose is a top journal, and you got four reviewers. Accordingly, if you submit your revised manuscript to another top journal, the chance that you get, at least, one of the same reviewers is high, who will not treat your manuscript in the same way (knowing that you were not able to address his/her comments about the novelty of the study and simply resigned).

Good luck

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