How to write a response to reviewers

So you’ve gotten a Revise and Resubmit.  The reviews are mixed.  The editor points some things out as needing addressing, but has left a lot to you.  What do you do?

A.  Have a moment of relief that you got an R&R rather than a “never send us this again”.

B.  Rail briefly and privately about reviewers who didn’t understand you and who may have been drawn from the Wheel of Peer Review.

C.  Then make your revisions and write your response.

The format of your response should be as follows:

1.  Profusely thank the editor.  Summarize the main changes you have made and the main concerns you did not address with explanations of why you did not address them (misunderstanding you have clarified, lack of data, etc.)

2.  Thank Reviewer #1.  Possibly point out anything specific and major that you found especially helpful.

Go through Point-by-point.  In some fields you will need to copy and paste each reviewer point and then follow with your response.  In other fields it is enough to paraphrase.  In still other fields, it is enough to respond to comments by number, but be aware that if you do this, the reviewer may have to dig up his or her original comments, which may be less polite than your paraphrase.

Be polite. Occasionally a reviewer will say something idiotic.  Apologize for being unclear and do your best to clarify their concern.  Sometimes it won’t need clarification, but explain anyway.  Whether the comments are stupid or brilliant, you should be gracious no matter what.

Address every single point.  Do not leave out points, even if you are unable to address them.  Leaving things out will irritate your reviewer.  If you cannot address the point say, “Unfortunately, I cannot address this point for these reasons.  Here are my other thoughts on this, thus proving I took your point seriously.”  If you can provide additional information that sort of gets at the question even if it doesn’t exactly address the question, feel free to include that, acknowledging that it only sort of gets at the question.

When you address points, say where in the paper you have addressed them.  Include page numbers, section numbers, and footnote numbers.  If you already addressed them but their eye slipped over where in the text you did, it is enough to state where in the paper they were addressed.  (Do not point out that they were addressed before.  Just point to where they were addressed.)

If you just do what they told you to do, it is often enough to say, “Done.  See page 3.” or “This has been added to footnote 15.”  Short is nice if you’re agreeing with them and able to do what they ask of you.

3.  Repeat step 2 for reviewers 2 through N, where N is the number of reviewers.

If you have anything particularly difficult to impart, address it in a separate confidential letter to the editor.  Be polite.

Double check once you’re done that all your page number and footnote references in the letters match the ones in the paper.  Double check you’re always polite.

And that’s all I have on my mind.  Did I miss anything important?  Have any “Don’t Do This” horror stories?

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23 Responses to “How to write a response to reviewers”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    You know, I think this the reason why I went the math/science route instead of english in college. There’s less room for interpretation.

    I remember taking a philosophy class and writing a paper that I thought was absolutely brilliant. I was good friends with someone who was the body guard for the dalai lama, so I had an excellent resource to go to for books and life examples. The irony is I had an opportunity to even meet the dalai lama (and richard gere as I later found out) and I said I couldn’t go because I had to finish this paper. I loved my paper and was so proud when I submitted it. Then I got a B. B?!! Really?

    I should have skipped the paper and met his holiness. I still regret that. Science is more black and white..when you’re wrong on a math problem it’s pretty clear why. I still don’t know why I got a B on that paper and in the class. At the end of the class my teacher hugged me and told me how wonderful of a student I was. It was weird and I’m not the touchy feely type. If I was so great, why didn’t I get an A on my elective. I’m deep. UGH.

    Okay done venting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh man, yeah, next time go for the Dalai Lama.

      I was a little annoyed at getting an A- in an English class in which the professor was so excited about one of my papers he decided to use the idea in his own scholarly work. But if I’d really wanted the A I would have rewritten the B I’d gotten on another paper. I punted on that and visited my friend who had attempted suicide during finals week instead.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Writing a scientific paper is ALL ABOUT interpretation. And you’re upset that you got a B in your elective? Really??

  2. Clio Bluestocking Says:

    Being in the middle of a revise & resubmit, myself, and never having done one before, this is quite helpful. Thank you!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Glad to be of service! Hopefully some folks from other disciplines will chime in if things are different in theirs. But I imagine the necessary graciousness to the reviewers is a constant theme.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    You know, I think this the reason why I went the math/science route instead of english in college. There’s less room for interpretation.

    While this may be true at the level of the predigested garbage mostly peddled at the undergraduate level, in relation to the peer-reviewed literature–which is the context of this post–there is just as much “room for interpretation” in the sciences as in the humanities.

    Science is more black and white.

    While regurgitating predigested crappe from textbooks may be “more black and white”, actually doing science and contributing to the peer-reviewed scientific literature is not at all “black and white”.

  4. Everyday Tips Says:

    Yikes, taking care of little details like that is exactly the type of task I dislike the most! Blech!

    Good luck!

  5. Suba Says:

    I am in the middle of a R&R myself. Some points they are making are a little ridiculous and out of scope. Makes me wonder if they actually read the whole thing. I just have to try with a nice, polite letter I suppose…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “I apologize for being unclear”
      “I agree that this is an important point, and should be addressed in a companion paper. Unfortunately, it is a bit out of scope of this paper.”
      “This point is addressed on page 73…”
      “Unfortunately, data limitations…”

  6. Perpetua Says:

    I have to say for everything I have ever submitted (book ms and articles) I’ve always had one reviewer who loved the book/article (though ze usually had criticisms as well) and one who was unnecessarily grumpy about the whole thing. However, I will also note that I have generally found the grumpy reviews more helpful during revisions, because they have tended to be more thorough reads, whereas sometimes the positive reviews actually represent more shallow reads. So the grumpy ones can be a blow to the ego, but if you get a grumpy review, put it in a drawer for a few days and when you go back to it, try to focus on what ze is saying that’s helpful. (I know there are just mean and stupid reviews – I’ve just been lucky to escape them. It helps that people in my field are generally not deranged a$$holes with major methodological axes to grind.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      As I become more well situated in my field, I think I’m getting better reviewers. I’m also getting better MS to review myself, which makes me think that perhaps some of the early jerks were actually grad students or newly minted PhDs.

  7. 2012 in review « Grumpy rumblings of the half-tenured Says:

    […] How to write a response to reviewers 17 comments February […]

  8. Bumblebee Says:

    This was very useful. Thank you! I’m a grad student and in the middle of my first ever R&R. Here’s another list, with many similar points to yours: http://www.clinchem.org/content/57/4/551.full

  9. Ask the Grumpies: What to do after tenure denial? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Congrats on the R&Rs!  If everything lands soon that will put you in a good position to go on the market.  Definitely revise and send those back out if you’re still holding on to them. (#2 says: Get those R&Rs out ASAP. That will help you in the future. Do this right away. A tenure denial per se may not hurt you on the job market that much, but a lack of publication certainly will. But R&Rs are a great step! Congrats on getting those decisions. Now revise until they say yes.) […]

  10. Whoops-a-daisy link love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] but good:  How to write a response to reviewers.  Guess what we were doing this […]


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