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I submitted a paper in a respected journal (Elsevier) in my field (Biology/Ecology). After 2 months, the review of the paper is out. I was expecting it to "Major Revision", "Accepted with Minor Revision" or "Reject" but it was not clearly stated in the decision letter what is really the verdict on my paper but instead it says "Revise" and Reviewers have now commented on your paper. You will see that they are advising that you revise your manuscript. If you are prepared to undertake the work required, I would be pleased to reconsider the revised paper for publication.

Although the reviewer's comments were positive (+constructive), minimal, some were clarifications and suggestions on what to add. But I'm still confused about what is the decision.

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I’ve reviewed for several journals that asked us to pick our overall recommendation from a four-item list:

  1. Accept, with minor revisions
  2. Accept, with major revisions
  3. Revise and resubmit
  4. Reject

So “Revise and resubmit” is (in very crude terms) ranked between “Accept, major revisions” and “Reject” on a scale of favourability. The editor is not rejecting your paper, but they are not committing to accepting it yet either — they want to re-review the revised version, before making a final decision. At least in my field, I would typically expect that the referees for the revised version will be the same as the original referees, looking to see if their original concerns have been satisfactorily addressed.

This generally means that the revisions they want are more on the “major” side — not necessarily in their extent, but in their importance to the paper, in the reviewers’ opinion. A example in my field (pure maths) might be: you have a theorem where the referee cannot follow your proof, and is concerned the theorem may be wrong. The referee then asks you to give the proof in more detail, but wants to re-review the new version to ensure they are now convinced it is correct.

  • 1
    There are also journals that (ab)use the "Revise and resubmit" option: when after one or two rounds of revision, and the referees are basically happy, they will tell you to revise and resubmit. This is because it makes the time from (second) submission to publication much shorter, which is a statistic they care about. – semi-extrinsic Aug 4 '17 at 11:44
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    I have never seen Accept with major revisions (as author, reviewer, or editor). If a major revision is needed, then it's usually impossible to tell whether the revised version will be acceptable. – Walter Aug 4 '17 at 12:01
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    @Walter I was handed an Accept with Major Revisions where the reviewers liked the paper and the methodology but thought the experiments were pointless. – David Aug 5 '17 at 5:17
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Accept with (major) revision makes very little sense, since the revised version may not be acceptable. In fact, I have never seen this type of decision (as author, reviewer, editor). In my experience, possible decision types are

  • Reject (with or without having consulted a reviewer)
  • Revise (minor, major, moderate); expects you to re-submit within a certain time interval (typically 6 months)
  • Accept (possibly allowing minor revision)
  • Transfer (to another journal of the same publisher)

If the manuscript is not outright rejected (which happens to a large fraction of submitted manuscripts), an immediate "accept" is very rare and the most common procedure is

  1. Reviewer recommendation: revise
  2. Editor decision: revise (but may differ if several reviewers disagree)
  3. Author action: revise paper and resubmit
  4. possible iteration over points 1-3 (I have seen up to 3 iterations)
  5. Reviewer/Editor: accept (occasionally: reject)

In case of rejection based on a single reviewer's recommendation, the editor usually consults another reviewer. In this case, the editor typically provides the second reviewer with the previous versions, reports, and replies, but may choose not to.

So, in your case, this looks completely normal according to the road map above. Don't worry, just revise the paper according to the report and/or other comments you have received from colleagues. If you disagree with the report in certain points, try to explain that well in your reply (there are plenty of other posts on this issue).

  • Thanks! this makes me feel have a clear idea of the decisions made. The reviewers were minimal and very positive (constructive) and made few suggestions, and some were clarifications. All were carefully addressed in the revised manuscript. Right now, the paper is again "Under Review". – xavier Aug 4 '17 at 15:18
5

Different fields, publishers, and even individual journals sometimes have different names for similar concepts. I would assume that the one that you submitted to does not distinguish (at least in the communication to the author) between Major and Minor Revisions, like other journals do. So I would treat this just as you would treat any revision - take all reviewer comments into account as well as you can, revise your paper by the given deadline (if any), write a response letter, and hope for an Accept next time.

That said, I find the idea to not distinguish between Minor and Major Revisions quite intriguing. In reality, the distinction is quite artificial anyway, and maybe it's best to just let the comments speak for themselves about how "major" of revisions are actually required. Maybe this journal is onto something here.

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It is similar to "accepted with minor revision", just without the "accepted" part. So you are supposed to fix the issues the reviewers pointed out and depending on how it looks then, it might get accepted or not.
As it didn't get rejected right away, your chances of acceptance are not too bad, but the editor doesn't want to make any promises yet, as he doesn't know how exactly you are going to fix the issues.

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    I don't agree with your answer that revise means "minor revision". I have often got "revise" status from Elsevier, which suggests 'major revision' and the editor gives enough time to do that. It actually depends on the review comments rather than a strict decision. – Coder Aug 4 '17 at 10:42
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    I also disagree. "Revise" just means revision required. Whether they are major or minor can only be deduced from detailed comments. – mystupid_acct Aug 4 '17 at 14:47
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    Personally I always found the choice of options given by the journal unaccessary and confusing instead of clarifying. As reviewer, I do often have to clarify that I basically recommend a paper for publication without substantial change at all, still I have troubles on choosing between minor and major changes. I always try to limit the choice of the editor (considering I am one among at least two referees) to avoid that a basically accepted paper will figure out as resubmitted. – Alchimista Aug 5 '17 at 12:20
  • I agree with @Coder and mystupid_acct that in "revise" it can be deduced from the comments of the reviewers. In my case, the reviewers are in a positive direction and constructive. For what I have experience with other journals, they are clear about rejection and acceptance. Additionally, isn't it unethical if they actually reject the paper then asked you to revise without a chance of acceptance? – xavier Aug 6 '17 at 10:15
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There is no such thing as "Accepted with Major Revision". If a major revision is required, acceptance is not guaranteed at all. "Revise" means revision is required, and decision will be taken considering the revisions made. I guarantee there is not a single reputable journal in the world which has status option like "accepted with major revision".

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Quite simply, it means the editor reserve the possibility to reject the paper even if you submit revisions. The conventional wisdom in the fields I am familiar with is that if you make an honest effort to address the issues raised, it will eventually get published but not phrasing the outcome as “accept with (major) revisions” avoids giving the impression that you are promising anything.

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