Revise and resubmit. This decision from journals has recently been discussed on the New APPS blog, and Peter Gratton has responded here. Here is my take on this – this refers to no specific case, but is the product of six years as an editor, and more as an author, referee and board member:
Yes, revise and resubmit is usually a good thing; and certainly not a moment to despair. It is not a reject, but nor is it an accept, however conditional. You are being given a chance, with guidance on what to do. If that guidance isn’t clear – ask for clearer guidance from the editor.
It is not sensible to argue with an editor that has given you a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision, seeking to get them to turn it into an ‘accept with revisions’ decision. You as author don’t know the whole picture, the identities of referees, the discussions between co-editors, etc. that got to that decision on what were likely conflicting reports. You’re also likely too close to your vision of the paper to understand. Editors have a wider perspective, and remember: they are authors too.
What is sensible is to revise the paper very carefully, doing what you can, not doing what you can’t, and silently dropping the unreasonable; and then write a very detailed response to the editors that can also be read by referees justifying what you’ve done, what you’ve not done, and why. This should not be along the lines of “here’s my revised paper; I have done everything the referees asked”. It should be detailed; and walk the editor, co-editors, and referees through the revisions. Send it, anonymised, along with the revision. If done really well it can convince the editor that they can indeed now accept this paper on the basis of the-already-made revisions. This has happened to me as an author; and I’ve seen authors succeed in this when acting as editor.
I’m not saying editors are infallible. But you are much more likely to convince them with the paper revised; than before. Referees too, like to see their comments engaged with. Few are so unreasonable to expect an author to do everything they initially suggested; especially if your response makes clear how you had to balance three reports and their multiple demands. A good editor will compensate for a reviewer who is unreasonable and wants to veto an otherwise satisfactory paper.
Of course, we all would prefer the word ‘accept’ in the decision letter on our paper; but it doesn’t always work that way. And do note, a revise and resubmit decision does not mean revise and we will accept. It means resubmit for a further round of review and decision.