How not to respond to reviewers – even if it is Reviewer #3

I have been an Editor for many years, since 1993 to be precise, and am currently Editor –in-Chief of one journal and a Senior Editor of another as well as being on the Editorial Board of two other journals. On top of that, I review about 40 papers a year so have come across quite a lot of response to reviewers letters.  I have also, as the author of over 200 papers, written my own share of reviewer responses.  Yes, there are some reviewers who have caused my blood pressure to rise and engendered a desire to rend them limb from limb, and I have sometimes been tempted to reply to suggested comments with the phrase “up yours”, but sanity and common sense have prevailed.

Based on responses I have seen over the years, here are a few suggestions of what not to do, and what to do, to maximise the chances of your resubmitted paper being accepted.

First, take a deep breath, close the document, go for a walk and don’t read it again for at least 24 hours. A hastily anger-filled response will almost always result in a rejection. Avoid knee-jerk reactions at all costs.

Do not start your response by saying “Do not send our revised paper back to Reviewer 1 as it is clear that he clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge or understanding of the study/subject area in general” This is likely to annoy the Editor who has gone to great pains to find a suitable reviewer for your paper and will most certainly annoy the reviewer when it is sent back to him/her as it will almost certainly be.   Much better to begin your response by thanking the Editor and reviewers for taking the time to consider your manuscript and making helpful suggestions.  Then respond carefully, comment by comment, as instructed in the letter from the Editor.

Do not respond to comments by baldly stating I/we disagree; politely state with good reasons, why you disagree.

Do not point out to the reviewer that she/he has made a spelling mistake.

Do not respond to the comment “This section is unclear” by saying “It is perfectly clear to us”. Ask yourself, why is it unclear to the reviewer?  One way to address the problem is by asking a colleague from another discipline if it is clear to them and then rewriting it when they say it isn’t.

If the reviewer challenges your description of random sampling as not being random because you did not use a random number generator do not respond by saying that this is how everyone you know describes it.

If challenged on your statistical analysis do not respond by saying “I/we have always done it this way”.  There may actually be a better way to do it, if you are sure there isn’t then explain why.

If challenged on the quality of your figures do not respond by saying this is the standard output from Excel.

Do not respond by saying “this was not raised as an issue by the reviewers of the previous journal we submitted our paper to”

If the Editor asks you to reduce the length of your Introduction or Discussion at least make some effort to do so, do not respond by saying “No, I/we think that the length is totally justified”.

If you really can’t bear to respond to the comments politely, then there are other journals, but do remember, there are only a finite number of willing expert reviewers and there is a very good chance that one of the reviewers of your paper that you have submitted to Journal Y will be the same as one you had for Journal X, so it makes sense to have made some changes to your original submission.

In the main, reviewers try to be constructive and helpful.  Remember they are unpaid, so are doing this for the good of the community and with a genuine desire to maintain the reputation of their discipline.  They are not doing it to annoy you.




Filed under Science writing

5 responses to “How not to respond to reviewers – even if it is Reviewer #3

  1. Marlies

    Hear hear! It amazes me actually that there are reseachers who do not respond the way you describe here. To me it’s totally common sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do remember needing to be locked in a darkened room when a reviewer criticised one of our papers for not using “US English”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bori

    I agree with the article above, and in the light of the fact that finding a reviewer nowadays is quite hard, it is quite important to understand.
    But that one reviewer we all have met is always puzzles me. In the first round, the reviewer did not had a chance to get insulted by the authors, yet it feels like that one reviewer does everything to make the authors feel bad.
    Please be not offended, I met a lots of great reviewer who could say their opinion and critique in a polite and constructive way, but often there is that one reviewer who just doesn’t. So It would be nice to make a version for the reviewers too from the article above.
    For example:
    Remember the authors do not make mistakes to annoy you and try everything to make the manuscript appealing for publication.
    Many cases the authors has to pay a lot for publishing their work that is essential to keep their jobs, and has to keep a lots of deadlines so the process is quite stressful for them.
    Most of the authors are not so lucky to born native English speaker so be patient with minor mistakes, Moreover, even when people write on their native language can make minor mistakes. (As it was mentioned before it is common comment that the English of the manuscript is not right, even when a native speaker have written it, or the manuscript was edited by a native speaker already)
    I think if both parties (authors and reviewers) would be more patient with each other it would make the publication process more effective and less stressful to everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

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