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Making Your List of Revisions

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

In the month of January I am developing a series of blog posts aimed to help you work through the process of peer review. For more background on the series, click here. In this post I want to talk about how to translate your reader comments into actionable revision tasks.

In my first post for this series, I discussed how to review you reader reports. If you missed that post, click here. Once you have taken some time to process the feedback you received, the next step is to take the narrative reports and figure out how to respond.

Before you fire off a response to the editor, take some time to work through the reports and develop a Revision Task List. This way you can ensure that your response will be realistic and actionable.

This is harder than it sounds, as it requires THREE critical skills.


REVISION SKILL # 1: An ability to read the feedback objectively. This means that you are not concerned with the adjectives, or how snarky the review appears. I like to think of my role in this stage as an archaeologist or a miner. I am digging through the rubble of the report to unearth the facts, without getting too distracted by my own feelings or insecurities.

In coaching clients, I often ask them to differentiate between the reality

of the situation and what they are making it mean internally.

Here's an example for you. When a reviewer writes: "The conclusion of the essay

does not make a clear argument for the overall relevance of the research."

What do you make that mean?

Option A: "I need to write a paragraph on the disciplinary impact of this topic."

Option B: "They hate my article."

If you want to make real, substantial progress on your revision, it's important that you are able to recognize the difference between criticism of your writing or presentation of your research and the research itself. And remember, it is the reviewer's job to help you make the strongest argument possible. So, try to depersonalize the comments you receive and objectively receive the feedback.

REVISION SKILL # 2: Translate comments into actionable tasks. And leave the rest.

It is quite common for reviewers to include feedback in their reports that does not include a suggestion for improvement. In a recent review I received, Reviewer 1 described my introduction as "defensive." Um, okay?

It is the author's responsibility to decide which comments are actionable and to translate vague criticisms into actionable tasks. So, in the example of the "defensive" comment above I might decide to read through the introduction again and make sure that I am being as generous as possible in my descriptions of previous scholarship. That's it. I am NOT going to go back and write a new argument.

Try to think about the minimum you need to do to address a the reviewer's comments. Not the maximum.

REVISION SKILL # 3: Accurately estimate the size of the revision task.

Not all revision tasks are alike. Some revisions may require a major organizational overhaul, while others may be a sentence-level edit (e.g., inserting more clear topic sentences). As you make your list, keep track of the type of revision task you need to complete.

For example, if the reviewer recommends that "the author needs to take into account the most recent issue of Incredibly Important Journal in the framing of their argument." The actionable revision task is NOT: "write two pages on the most recent issue of Incredibly Important Journal. And read every bibliographic citation in that issue to make sure I don't look stupid."

The tasks would look more like:

  1. Download and read introduction to special issue.

  2. Read abstracts for the special issue and identify relevant essays to review.

  3. Read Relevant essay # 1 and write 3-sentence summary.

  4. Write 1-2 sentences in main text of the essay and cite Relevant Essay # 1

It's critical that when you create revision list you are as specific as possible in the tasks that you need to complete.


My revision list is always broken down into categories that include: task, type of task (e.g., reading or organizing), and estimated time to complete. Keeping this list is an important part of my revision process, because it allows me to track my progress in a way other than "revising" and "finished." And that, my friends, is the key to working consistently and efficiently.

If you are paralyzed by your reader reports and need help crafting your revision list, I am here to help. Click the button below and we can discuss how. And stay tuned for next week's post "Part 3: The Work Plan."

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