Guidelines for responding to reviewers

people-with comment bubbles-1038128-mCongratulations on having your paper sent out for peer review and returned with comments! You have passed one of the major hurdles to publication, and you now have an opportunity to polish your manuscript further.

Remember that the purpose of peer review is to dissect and critique your work, deliberately looking for flaws, with the end goal of producing and publishing the best possible manuscript. Although criticism can be painful, it can help you to improve your paper. Very few manuscripts are published without going through at least one round of critique and revision. Try not to take the criticism personally. Rather, use it to your advantage.

The response letter generally gives an indication of the journal editor’s level of interest in your manuscript. If your paper was recommended for major revision with future publication possible but not assured, you must decide whether it is in your best interest to resubmit the revised manuscript to that journal or to submit it to a different journal. Regardless of your choice, use the reviewers’ comments to help you optimize your manuscript.

KEY POINTS FOR WRITING RESPONSES TO REVIEWERS

  1. Be polite and appreciative
  • The reviewers probably spent a number of hours reading and critiquing your manuscript. It is important to show appreciation for their efforts, even if you do not agree with all of their points.
  • If some of the comments anger you, take a few days to step back and allow your emotions to cool down. Then, determine how you can use the comments to improve your work. Consult with your coauthors and other researchers on how to address the reviewers’ points.
  • Whenever possible, follow the reviewer’s suggestions. For example, if a reviewer suggests that you make minor changes to a sentence, make the changes unless you strongly disagree with the suggestion or feel that your meaning would be changed by the suggestion. Begin your response with a phrase such as:
    • “In accordance with the reviewer’s suggestion, we have changed this sentence to [copy revised sentence here] (Page xx, Line xx).”
  • If the reviewer made a useful suggestion or pointed out an important error or omission, start your response with a sentence such as:
    • “Thank you for this excellent suggestion.”
    • “We appreciate this observation.”
    • “Thank you very much for pointing out this error.”
  • Take the comments seriously, even if you decide to submit your manuscript to a different journal. If you send your manuscript off to another journal without making the suggested improvements, new reviewers are likely to find similar issues with the paper. Your paper could also be sent to the same individual for review. In that case, if you have ignored their comments once, they are unlikely to give you a kind critique.
  1. Create an organized response letter
  • The response letter should be easy to follow. Copy all of the reviewers’ comments into the response document and give each comment a separate response. If different reviewers make the same comment, provide the full response for both comments (even if it is the same) rather than writing “See the response to Reviewer 1 comment 3…”
  • Use full sentences.
  • Provide the updated page and line numbers where the corresponding revision can be found in the revised manuscript. Copy and paste the revised sentence(s) into each response.
  1. Be thorough
  • The Editor-in-Chief will want to know how you responded to all of the reviewers’ points. Even minor comments deserve a response. If you disagree with a point, this should be discussed courteously, not ignored (see below).
  1. What to do when you don’t agree with a reviewer’s comment or suggestion
  • It is not uncommon for reviewers to suggest additional experiments and analyses or to critique an aspect of the experimental design. Such suggestions often are useful and can lead to improved analyses, interpretation, or discussion. Make every effort to carry out the suggested analyses if the suggestion is well founded.
  • If you cannot do what is asked, or if you think that the request is unreasonable or outside the scope of your study, here are some options:
    • Acknowledge the validity of the reviewer’s point and explain why a different method or experiment is not within the scope of the project. Example: “Thank you for this suggestion. We agree that additional analyses would provide useful and important data, but we believe that the recommended analyses are outside the scope of this study.” Then, explain why your findings are valid and important without further analyses or experiments.
    • Mention how the reviewer’s suggestion might be incorporated into future work or is currently being studied. However, if you do not intend to perform additional work relating to that point, do not say that you will.
  • A reviewer’s misunderstanding can indicate that you have not clearly described the material. In that case, wording, logic, or literature citations should be added to clarify that part of the text. Reviewers sometimes make mistakes or misread material, but look carefully at sections that reviewers misinterpret. In your response:
    • Explain your rationale for using the analysis or method in question.
    • Provide additional background information, and cite more studies if possible to support your point. Consider adding this material to the revised manuscript.
    • Introduce your response with a phrase such as “The reviewer’s comment made us aware that we did not describe xxx clearly. We have added the following sentences (Page xx, Lines xx–xx) to improve this description [or discussion]…”
  • If you think that a reviewer’s interpretation or suggestion is incorrect or unreasonable, politely explain why you disagree, but do not be argumentative. Here are some introductory phrases for these situations:
    • “With all due respect to the reviewer, we would like to explain why we do not agree with this suggestion…”
    • “We appreciate the reviewer’s perspective. We believe that we did not clearly explain this point in the original manuscript…”
  • When the reviewer points out an error in the writing, fix it and thank the reviewer for catching the mistake:
    • “Thank you very much for pointing out this error. We have corrected xxx (Page xx, Line xx).”
  1. Additional considerations
  • Occasionally, two reviewers will provide opposing suggestions or comments. In this case, select the suggestion that you think is most valid and will best improve your paper, and follow it. Describe your reasons for following that suggestion in the responses to each reviewer. Also mention the conflicting advice and explain your decision to the Editor-in-Chief in your resubmission cover letter.
  • Ask a colleague or a professional editor who is not directly involved with your research to help you to identify sections that can be deleted if the editor requests that you make major word-count reductions.
  • Make sure you include the updated page and line numbers that correspond to each revision made in response to a comment.
  • Check your responses for spelling and grammatical errors, and have an outside party read over them before submission.

 

Additional resources for writing responses to reviewers:

Top 10 Tips for Responding to Reviewer and Editor Comments by Thomas M. Annesley

How to reply to peer review comments when submitting papers for publication by HC Williams, PhD

Do you have questions or comments about responding to reviewers? Please share them by leaving a comment below.

Anne Altor PhD, PWS

Anne Altor

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