Reflections on research – Responding to peer review

So your precious paper has been sent for peer review and you’ve been asked to submit some revisions. This is the second post in a series on peer review.  This post has a few of our best tips for responding to the reviewers’ comments.

  • Follow the Editor’s instructions: At this point, it is critically important that you follow the process and instructions requested by the Editors. This will mean revising the initial text document that you submitted, usually with highlighting or track changes to indicate exactly which changes you have made. In most cases you will also be asked to write a letter to the Editor/s, in which you address each of the reviewers’ points, and explain the changes that you have made to the manuscript.
  • Address all of the reviewers’ concerns: Cut and paste each of the reviewers’ concerns into your response letter, and address each one separately. If you agree with the points raised by the reviewer, you should make it clear that you have revised the document as requested, and indicate the page and line number on which the changes are made. It also doesn’t hurt to thank the reviewer for helpful pieces of feedback. However, if you disagree with one or more of the reviewers’ concerns…
  • Give the reviewer a charitable reading: It is important to reflect on your own position, and consider the alternative perspectives that might have informed their response. You have a chance to benefit from their alternative perspective, and potentially improve your paper. If they ask you to restructure the paper or conduct an alternative analysis, it is important that you show the Editor that you have thought carefully and come to a measured conclusion about your response, even if that happens to be a polite rebuttal of their suggested change.
  • Be polite: You don’t have to agree with every point that the reviewer makes, but it is important that you treat them respectfully. If you are rebutting one of the reviewers’ points, politely explain your reasons, referencing relevant literature to support your argument. Remember that anything you write in your response letter may well be seen by the reviewers. There is nothing to be gained here by attacking the reviewers’ credibility or trying to evade their criticism.
  • Be clear and concise: Remember that both reviewers and Editors are busy, and mostly performing their roles in a voluntary capacity. While your response letter should address every point, it is also important to be succinct. You can save words by addressing the substance of each concern directly, and referencing relevant literature that supports your claims, in case the Editor wishes to substantiate your points further. If your rebuttal of a reviewer’s point is taking more than a short paragraph to explain, it is probably worth reconsidering Step 3.

Following these steps will make it easier for the Editor to conclude that your paper is acceptable for publication, and will also prevent the need to spend time on second or third revisions.

I hope this is helpful – please comment below if you have other tips that you have found useful in responding to peer review.

Coming soon – tips for peer reviewers…

@csinclair28 @AnnaLCollins

2 thoughts on “Reflections on research – Responding to peer review

  1. Thanks Craig and Anna for sharing these great tips from your experience and insight.

    The issues around ‘polite rebuttal of reviewers’ concerns’ resonated with me, in particular, having recently submitted the same.

    What frustrated me most, was that reviewers had made personal comments such as “You’ve done ‘X’ – but I would prefer you did ‘Y’ ” OR “I’m not comfortable with the phrase ‘X’ “.

    My response was to note the reviewers’ personal preference / discomfort – and point to a lack of any scholarly justification or rationale given by the reviewers as to why changes were warranted (apart from their own personal preference). In both instances, I referred to the literature that overwhelmingly supported the approach and the terminology/phrasing used. The paper was accepted by the editor without further correspondence, but to me this highlighted what appears to be a lack of training or guidance for peer reviewers on what the role entails, and how best to make constructive criticism for authors. As a reviewer I certainly aim to provide a balanced and constructive critique which presents both the strong and weak aspects of a manuscript – from a scholarly rather than personal perspective. I will therefore look forward to reading the next installment from you both on tips for peer review!


  2. Another great post.
    I also think it is helpful to try and make the changes to the draft as clear as possible for the reviewer. I have taken to using a table in the response letter featuring the reviewer comment, my response, and then the text changes (if any) as the columns. That helps me know that I have covered everything, and hopefully helps the editor and reviewer do their job more efficiently.

    As a reviewer when you get sent a re-draft that does not make clear what the author’s responses were to you previous comments, or what changes have been made it is difficult to support them in publication and potentially takes a lot more time to review.

    Looking forward to the next one.


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