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I have recently received reviews for a journal paper I submitted a few months back. The verdict is a major revision (three out of four reviewers requested this, the fourth said accept with minor revisions).

Many of the reviewers felt like we did not justify our approach sufficiently, to which we agree and can improve upon. The editor; however, in their comments to us, stated that we should take a different (much more complicated) approach altogether (even though none of the reviewers suggested changing the entire approach, only to justify why we chose the approach we did).

Question: How should we proceed when the editor's comments seem much stronger than those of the reviewers?

It is not feasible to accommodate the editor's requests by the deadline. I'm unsure if the reviewers made (stronger) private comments to the editor requesting larger changes or if the editor interpreted the reviewers comments much differently than we did. The paper will go back to the reviewers after we make the requested changes.

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It's the editor's call, and since you have no right to get your manuscript published, you don't really have a basis to ignore the editor's request -- if that's what the editor wants, then that's what you likely have to give him/her.

That said, while the manuscript management systems most journals use typically give you a deadline by which you have to turn around revisions, these are not actually enforced. That's because if you need to, you can always let the deadline pass and submit your revision as a new paper -- if you mention in your cover letter that it is a resubmission of a prior manuscript, then it will go to the same editor and from that person likely to the same reviewers.

The better approach is to discuss the timeline issue with the editor. Email the editor back and state that you're looking forward to making the requested changes, but that you can't do it in the requested time. Ask whether you can get an extension, stating how much time you need. As an editor, I can't see a reason why that should not be granted.

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    Better than just letting the deadline pass is to inform the editor/handling person that you won't get things done before the deadline, and ask for extension. Alternatively, inform them on time that you plan to resubmit after making the changes. Not only friendly (the editor knows what to expect), but also, some systems may block resubmission automatically for some journals. – Mark Oct 23 '17 at 17:08
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First, determine for yourself the answer to this question:

If it was not for the revision deadline, would you be willing to follow the request of the editor for the revision?

If the answer is yes, it's going to be easy: just follow the answer by Wolfgang Bangerth and request an extension of the deadline.

If the answer is no, you'll have to explain to the editor why you are not going to do this. In that case, instead of doing a full revision round with just answering to this comment negatively, I'd recommend taking a shorter route and directly communicate with the editor about this issue. You can for example explain how you understood the editor's request, why you don't think it's the best thing to do for the paper, and ask whether there might be a different way to get the paper ready for publication in this journal. You could also state that none of the reviewers seemed to make the same suggestion, and, depending on how detailed the editor's comments are, ask for more background information as to the editor's reasoning. It could well be that the editor has misunderstood some reviewer comments or got a wrong impression of the methodology somehow else, and the direct communication will help clarify this.

Of course there's a risk that the editor just won't accept publishing the paper without you following this request. If you're not willing to do it, that may mean moving to a different journal.

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If the editor is requiring changes at this level, I would also suggest that you consider if this really a disguised rejection.

This could happen if the topic of the paper is acceptable, but for some reason they don't want to publish it. An outright rejection may be controversial, so they have instead asked for unrealistic changes, which you're not expected to meet. At this point, they can then reject the paper without feeling guilty.

My recommendation in this case would be to withdraw the paper and submit it elsewhere. As it looks as though all four reviewers did ask for changes, I'd suggest addressing any major flaws they've identified before submitting this to the alternative journal.

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Well, you can only do what you can do. Since you do not have the resources to implement the editor's suggestions, all you can do is address those of the reviewers. Maybe you can include the editor's alternative approach somewhere in the discussion section if it makes sense to address it there, otherwise just note your reasons in the letter accompanying your revised submission.

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