Very seldom are journal articles accepted outright. Though your heart may sink when you get a response asking for substantial revisions and resubmission, that’s actually good news. It means the reviewers have found real merit in your work and the editor is encouraging you to continue toward publication with that journal.
But sorting through the feedback from multiple reviewers can seem daunting. I often see conflicting feedback from different reviewers also. To help get some emotional distance on the feedback and begin to organize a response, I encourage my clients to consider making up a table to itemize feedback from all the reviewers and figure out their response.
You might begin by listing each suggestion for revision in one column. Include the page number in your manuscript that corresponds to particular piece of advice. Some of my clients then highlight ideas that recur in the feedback from different reviewers---that can help you see a pattern. Sometimes peer readers will articulate a problem very differently, for example, with, say, the framing of the article. But if they all voice concerns about the framing, that part of the manuscript deserves to be a priority in your thinking about revision. In prioritizing where to spend your time, also look back at the correspondence from the acquisition editor. Sometimes editors convey a sense of what types of revision are most important to them. If you are not clear, it’s fine to ask the editor if she has any guidance to suggest about conflicting directions for revision.
In your chart, create another column that you label “response” or “to-do” where you eventually will outline steps to take to address each issue. While you should give careful consideration to all suggestions for revision, in some cases, to accept a suggestion would violate your own sense of the integrity of your research. If you disagree profoundly with a suggestion, take time to free-write about why to clarify your rationale to yourself. If you have a legitimate reason grounded in the accuracy of your research or your philosophical and theoretical commitments, include that reason in your “response” column in your table. That is something, along with the revisions you make following suggestions, that you can explain to your editor when you resubmit the article.
When you do resubmit, write a succinct letter to the editor orienting her to the revisions you have made. Be sure to thank the editor for the opportunity to revise; and, if you feel the process has allowed you to deepen your thinking on this topic and strengthen your writing, say so. Then overview the changes you have made, noting page numbers that correspond to each issue you addressed.