How to Respond to Reviewer Comments
Some time after the thrill of research article submission wears off, we all get the dreaded message:
After careful peer-review of your manuscript, the editing staff have decided to request revisions. Please respond to the comments, which appear at the end of this e-mail.
But that cannot be? You wrote a perfect paper. Clearly the reviewers did not understand your seminal work. If you want your research paper published, then it is important to resist the urge to dismiss the reviewer comments. As researchers, we all have to address and respond to each comment.
This can be a daunting task, even for seasoned researchers. There is also, unfortunately, no formal training on the do’s and don’ts of responding to reviewer comments. In this post, we offer tips and best practices that can help lower the rounds of revisions and get your work published fast.
1. Take Your Time
First, read all the reviewer comments carefully. Then forget about them for a week. This break will allow the comments to sink in, and stop you from retaliating against the comments. Retaliation will only make things worse, even if worded ‘politely’. As much as you may want to, you should not write things like:
The reviewer clearly did not read the paper
We completely disagree with this comment
This comment has no merit
Responding this way will likely lead to more revisions, or even rejection.
2. Make Responding Manageable
Copy and paste the reviewer comments into a MS Word, and read them again. Any reviewer comments in large paragraphs of text can be intimidating, but try to understand their main points, and break the paragraphs up accordingly.
With that, you should now be able to identify a pattern with the comments, if any. Did the reviewers question your methodology? Was the literature review lacking? Perhaps they want more data, or a different interpretation to the results. Maybe it was something simple like fixing the references or the paper structure.
3. Address Each Comment Entirely
Go through the formatted reviewer comments, and focus on one comment at a time. You do not need to argue every comment. In fact, it is often better to just follow the reviewer’s wishes if it is easy to do. In most cases, their comments are aimed at improving the research article overall, not a personal attack against you.
When you make the necessary changes, either track changes in MS Word, or make the changes stand out by highlighting or changing the text colour. Specific journals may also request that you do one or the other.
4. Write What You Did
You have done the revisions, but you should tell the reviewer (and editor) what you did in response to each comment. Reviewers and editors will not remember their comments, and do not have the time to match changes in the research article to the corresponding comment. Many journals will ask you to do this anyway, so it is a good habit to get into.
Make it as simple as possible for the editor and reviewers to find what you did. Do this by including a separate form with each comment and your response.
Already having the reviewer comments in a MS Word document, in an easily digestible format will make this easy. If you feel a comment has multiple interpretations, first write out how you understood the comment. Next, acknowledge the comment with simple phrases like:
We agree with the referee that…
We agree that…
Thank you for pointing out this oversight…
We acknowledge that…
Then write out your changes. Also be sure to reference where your changes are by including page numbers, paragraph numbers, or line numbers. For example:
We agree with the referee that a discussion of XYZ was lacking. We have added this discussion in lines 300-400.
5. Respectfully Disagree
Reviewers are not perfect. They too are busy researchers and can make mistakes. Do not antagonize them by being rude in your rebuttals. Mention that you disagree, and say why. Even better, back up your rebuttal with evidence. Cite references to strengthen your points, and even include them in the main text. For example:
With respect, this is a tough issue to deal with, because of DEF. While we do appreciate that this is a relevant point, we feel that to cover this in sufficient detail is outside the scope of this paper. However, we have briefly mentioned this point in lines 211-212.
6. Organize Your Response Document
Depending on the journal, you may need to copy and paste your responses into a text box through the journal’s submission system. However, it more likely you will be asked to submit a response document. It needs to be organized as follows:
Dear [Editor’s Name],
We would like to thank you for your careful review of this manuscript and have hopefully addressed the concerns to your satisfaction, as detailed below.
[Editor’s comments and your responses, if applicable]
[Reviewer 1’s comments and your responses]
[Reviewer 2’s comments and your responses]
[Reviewer 3’s comments and your responses]
7. Resubmit Promptly and Within the Given Deadline
While it is a good idea to leave time to let reviewer comments diffuse (and let your initial anger leave), you will want to resubmit promptly. Be sure to leave enough time for your co-authors to give their input and for you to make edits based on their suggestions. If you cannot make the deadline, contact the editor as quick as you can to request an extension.
Be respectful, have a good reason (co-author unavailable, conference season, grant writing season, etc.), and the editor should grant the extension. Do not miss the extension deadline.
Reviewer comments can make even a seasoned researcher upset, but try not to take them personally. Be professional in your communications, follow our guide, and you can address the revisions with confidence.