METM23 Chronicles: Mary Ellen Kerans

Defending a paper: review of literature on the “point-by-point reply” and tips for supportive author editing

Mary Ellen Kerans* has a long background as an authors’ editor and in dealing with the sometimes fraught experience of revising a paper to satisfy reviewers’ comments. She gave a smooth and orderly presentation, ensuring her audience had a clear idea of what is needed of a language professional (LP) at this stage.

Mary Ellen briefly outlined the formal and grey literature on point-by-point (p×p) replies, noting that many journals offer templates and advice to both reviewers and authors. She reported that John Swales called the p×p reply part of the “occluded process” in publishing; ideally, supervisors should show examples of reviewers’ comments and authors’ replies to younger researchers long before they become the ones to deal with a p×p reply.

The main concern at this stage is for the authors to satisfy the reviewers’ concerns and get the paper fit for publication, preferably without a long delay. However, early-career researchers may need coaching in how best to tackle a p×p reply. One of the major issues in many fields is the inequality in power level between reviewers and authors despite their small social distance. (The nature of much research means there is only a limited number of peers in select topics.)

At the p×p-reply stage, an experienced LP can offer the authors calm guidance and encouragement, as well as language support. An LP can help interpret the reviewers’ comments for an EAL (English as an additional language) author where necessary and they can read the p×p reply from the reviewers’ perspective. A p×p reply should address all the reviewers’ points, and if the authors disagree with a reviewer, they must explain clearly why and offer support for their view. The p×p reply should also outline the content and manner of revisions made, giving context and page/line numbers to make it easy for a reviewer to follow the p×p reply. Authors may need reminding to remain polite and professional at all times, even when they feel frustrated or misunderstood.

Mary Ellen also handed out a list of the literature on p×p replies, and of reflections and tips summarizing how authors’ editors and translators can give writers support in the final stages of the publication process.

These tips included:

  1. Interview the author – to gain an idea of the factual situation (type and length of comments, deadline, etc.) and of the authors’ attitude.
  2. Make the authors’ replies easy for the reviewer to scan (e.g. formatting, coloured font).
  3. Ensure the replies are explicit and explain the revisions made.
  4. Examine the authors’ discussion and any new thoughts they may have.
  5. Ensure the authors’ claims in the p×p reply match the revisions made in the text.


*Sign in to the MET website to view Mary Ellen’s profile.

This METM23 presentation was chronicled by Jackie Senior.

Featured photo by METM23 photographer Leonardo Rizzato.

2 thoughts on “METM23 Chronicles: Mary Ellen Kerans

  1. Thanks, Jackie. Since these Chronicles are about to be made public, I’d like to mention one point I hope I made clear during the presentation but that you didn’t mention.

    Namely that some of authors’ deepest, most interesting revisions of their text happen during the revise-and-defend stage of publication. Most discussion of point-by-point replies emphasize simple adjustment. But I usually see one or two points that yield much more re-thinking of the meaning of the research. So, because such deep-reaching thinking and revision can take place at this stage, if authors’ editors like us aren’t participating, we’re missing an exciting moment in the writing and publication process. As for the authors, they become braver, in my experience, if they know we’ll back them up with “the English.”

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