Q: Why did the editor invite new reviewers for my revised paper?

Detailed Question -

After submission, I got a major revision decision from two reviewers. I revised and resubmitted. After 14 days, I received the decision [communication] that both the reviewers agreed that I had addressed their questions and that the paper could be published. However, the editor asked me to improve my abstract, introduction, and structure (as a second major revision). After I submitted the second revision, he invited five new reviewers to review the revision. However, they are yet to agree to his request even after 20 days. Is he going to add the previous reviewers' comments to the invitation he sent, possibly looking for a reason to reject?

1 Answer to this question

Hmm, there seem to be two questions here: why the editor asked for a second major revision (and therefore, invited new reviewers) and what you should do. Let’s take them one by one.

The editor’s actions

Typically, the editor calls in new reviewers for a revised/reviewed manuscript when there’s a disagreement between/among the existing peer reviewers. As there was no disagreement, the editor’s decision is a bit surprising. In that case, there may be a conflict between the editor and the reviewers or perhaps even between the associate editor (AE, who makes the initial decision on the manuscript) and the Editor-in-Chief (EiC, who makes the final decision on the manuscript). It’s not clear which editor you are referring to (possibly the AE). So, based on the inputs we have provided here, you may need to determine who has been instrumental for these decisions – if that is a matter of concern to you.

For more perspectives on this course of action, you may refer to the following resources:

What is somewhat unusual, and what may provide some insights into the matter, is the decision to ask for changes in the abstract, introduction, and structure after one major revision. A guess, and one that is somewhere between ‘informed’ and ‘flighty,’ is that the journal is perhaps relooking at the style of its manuscripts. A way to quickly check this is to look at recent manuscripts that have been published by them and those from, say, six months to a year ago. Having said that though, doing guesswork and acting on those guesses shouldn’t really be the responsibility of the author. So, we will leave this to you to decide how much effort you wish to put into this (or not).

The other matter is that of the new reviewers. It’s not clear from your query if the editor has decided to refer to only one new reviewer or more/all of them. If the latter, and given the stage of the paper, that’s even more perplexing and anguishing. All the same, there have been papers that have gone through multiple reviewers for a decision.

Finally, “will the editor add the previous reviewers’ comments to the new invites”? He may share their overall comments (from the initial review and the validation) and may include the commented copies for reference. Will he do this “possibly looking for a reason to reject”? That would seem to suggest he has some sort of agenda (which may very well prove to be the case though). However, it would be best to let this remain conjecture for now. Let’s try and put (y)our efforts to the best use elsewhere. :-)

Your next actions

What you could do, if you haven’t done so already, is to write to the editor asking for more information or clarity on his actions: asking for extensive changes after the initial major revision; asking for changes after the initial peer reviewers have provided their affirmation; sending it to one or more reviewers for another opinion or review; the number of new reviewers there are likely to be; and the time this would take. You may also ask if you could suggest some peer reviewers (if you know any), but from what you have described, he is unlikely to look to you for this.

You may pose these queries in one mail or over a couple of mails. And worry not, these are very valid questions to ask. This will also allow you to gauge whether his actions and intentions have been reasonable or not. You will know this through the rapidity and nature of his responses. Given how long you seem to have slogged over this, we hope he proves to be reasonable.

If not, and while this may seem anguishing to suggest at this stage, you may consider withdrawing the manuscript from here and submitting elsewhere. This may eventually become necessary if the acceptance and publishing of this manuscript has some academic or professional dependency for you. So, you can set a timeline for this (for how much longer you can let the manuscript remain here). In the meantime, you could also make presubmission inquiries with other journals, providing a description of the present scenario. [For the to-dos of withdrawing your manuscript, you may refer to this resource: Should I withdraw my paper if the journal is taking unusually long to process?]

Finally, in an attempt to blunt the blow of a potential withdrawal and (re)submission, we would like to suggest our new AI-powered manuscript check and showcase platform, R Pubsure. The platform provides a machine-powered screening utility that allows you improve the manuscript and make it submission-ready. Once your manuscript is good to go, it allows you to showcase it to several editors, one of whom may consider it for publishing (if of course it meets their approval). You may find out more about the platform here: R Pubsure [But again, this is only if you decide to withdraw from the present journal.]

All the best for all the next actions!