How to respond to peer reviewers comments | Researcher blog

How to respond to peer reviewers comments: top tips on addressing reviewer feedback

8 mins

Zoe Brooke

The peer review process is a fundamental component of scholarly publishing, ensuring the quality and credibility of academic research. After submitting your manuscript to a publishing venue, it undergoes rigorous evaluation by experts in the field before it’s disseminated to the broader academic community. While feedback is essential for enhancing the quality and impact of your work, responding effectively to peer reviewer comments is equally critical and can be a challenging task. In this blog, we’ll walk you through some steps to effectively respond to peer reviewer comments, turning this often daunting process into a productive and collaborative one.

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What is peer review, and why is it important?

Peer review refers to the independent assessment of a research paper by experts in your field. The purpose of peer review is to determine whether a paper is suitable for publication and of good quality.

Beyond serving as a mechanism for quality assurance in academic journals, peer review offers valuable feedback to authors. Authors can use the feedback to improve the quality of the paper before it gets published.

So at its best, peer review is a collaborative process, where authors engage in a productive dialogue with peers in their field, and receive constructive input to refine and advance their work.

How to respond to peer reviewers comments

Once experts in your field have reviewed your paper, you might need to make changes addressing reviewer feedback. However, if this is not done sufficiently, your paper could go through another round of revisions or even get rejected.

So, how should you respond to peer reviewers comments? Read on for a simple step-by-step guide to make this process easier.

1. Understand the peer review process

Before delving into how to respond to reviewer feedback, the first step is to understand the peer review process itself and its requirements. For example, if you have submitted your paper to a more traditional publisher that uses double-anonymized review, your revised manuscript will need to be anonymized. In an open peer review setting, peer review reports are published, and the identities of both authors and reviewers are disclosed promoting a more transparent and constructive feedback exchange. So, embracing open peer review as a transparent and cooperative endeavor is a key step in successfully addressing reviewer comments and advancing the scholarly conversation.

2. Review all comments carefully and document the revisions

Once you receive the reviewer comments, take the time to read them thoroughly. Often, reviewers provide both general feedback and specific comments or suggestions for improvement.

After going through reviewer feedback, you should make a list of all the changes the reviewers have asked for, including any comments the journal editor has made. After you’ve identified each critique or suggestion, you should move them into a new document and use line numbers or bullet points to separate the feedback. Make sure to include a separate section for comments from the editor and from each reviewer (such as reviewer 1, reviewer 2).

You can consider categorizing each comment into four main types:

(A) Valid and essential suggestions: These are comments that point out clear issues with your work or suggest improvements that can significantly enhance the quality of your research.

(B) Comments that require clarification: Sometimes, reviewers may misunderstand a point in your manuscript or request additional information. In such cases, your response should aim to provide the necessary clarity.

(C) Comments that can be politely declined: Not all reviewer comments are equally valid or relevant. Some suggestions may not align with your research goals or may be outside the scope of your study. In these cases, it’s essential to politely explain your rationale for not incorporating the suggested changes.

(D) Comments about minor revisions in the manuscript: Such comments refer to small changes and improvements that do not affect the overall conclusions of a paper. These can include missing references, data presentation, or typos, spelling and phrasing issues.

3. Highlight the changes on your document

Start planning where you’ll make changes and what those changes should be. You can do so by making notes on your list of feedback or directly in your manuscript.

If you copy the reviewer’s feedback into comment bubbles in your manuscript, this can help you understand where the edits should be placed and how the different suggestions relate to each other.

4. If you’re unsure about something, communicate it

If reviewers point out things you believe you’ve already explained in your paper, don’t assume they’re mistaken or don’t understand. Because if one person gets confused, others might be too.

Instead, you should see this as an opportunity to make your point even clearer. You can add a few sentences or references to emphasize that part of your research so that it doesn’t seem like you overlooked something important.

5. Think carefully where changes can’t be made

Sometimes, you might choose not to revise your paper if doing so would give readers a very different understanding or if it would require a lot more research.

This often comes up in science articles (like STEM fields) when reviewers ask for additional experiments that are impossible, would take too much time, or need a lot of resources.

Remember, peer review is a discussion. It’s okay to politely disagree with the reviewer (and the editor) if you have a good reason. If there are changes you can’t make, explain that in your response letter.

6. Revise your manuscript

Address the most significant changes first and make sure to track them

Changes might involve significant adjustments or reorganizing certain points that reviewers had differing opinions about. Addressing such major changes early on is important because it prevents spending time on minor textual edits that might end up being removed later.

Use comment bubbles or the ‘track changes’ feature to mark all changes. This will make it easier to locate them later when you’re writing your response letter.

Maintain consistency

As you make revisions, ensure that your manuscript remains consistent in terms of style, formatting, and overall structure.

Proofread and edit your article

Take this opportunity to thoroughly proofread and edit your manuscript. Correct any grammatical errors, improve sentence structure, and refine the clarity of your writing.

Check your references

Verify that your citations and references are accurate and up-to-date. Ensure that you’ve properly attributed the work of others.

Update your data

When reviewers ask for changes in how you analyze or present data, create new tables and graphs with the updated information and new data. Save both the old and new versions in your response letter so the reviewers can see the changes.

In your response letter, clarify if the new analysis leads to different data interpretations and if this affects your research in any way.

Include a diagram

It’s also a good idea to provide a flow diagram or a graphical abstract of your study design together with your main article. This will be particularly useful if you come from a STEM discipline which often requires several experiments and extensive data analysis. Having a diagram can help reviewers and readers better understand what your research is about, evaluate, and analyze your study.

7. Write a good response letter

When crafting your response document, start with a short introduction where you thank the editor and reviewers for their feedback. Then, organize your letter into sections with clear headings for comments from the editor and each reviewer.

In these sections, make sure to quote the editor’s or reviewers’ words directly, without paraphrasing or shortening. For instance, say something like, “Reviewer 1 says, ‘Pine and Gilmore have addressed this issue and their views should be considered here.'” Afterward, briefly explain what you did to address this feedback.

For example, “On page number 7, I added a detailed discussion about Pine and Gilmore’s (1999) study of this issue. The updated text now reads: …” Then, include your revised text and any surrounding sentences needed to understand it. Set these revisions apart, maybe by using italics or a box quote, so they stand out from the reviewer comments.

Throughout your response, maintain a respectful and professional tone. End your response by expressing your gratitude once again for the reviewers’ time and valuable input. Reiterate your commitment to improving your work based on their feedback.

A good response letter can be quite long, potentially more than 20 pages. But if you structure and format it well, it will be easy for others to read and follow.

8. Resubmit your manuscript and prepare for possible further review

Follow your publisher’s submission guidelines carefully when you are ready for the resubmission of your revised manuscript. Include all the necessary documents, such as your response to the reviewer comments, revised manuscript, cover letter, and any additional materials requested by the editor or reviewers.

Then wait for the next round of feedback. It’s not uncommon for reviewers to request additional revisions or clarifications after you’ve submitted your initial revisions. Be prepared for the possibility of further review rounds. Approach these rounds with the same professionalism and commitment to improvement as you did with the initial reviews.

Responding to peer reviewer comments is an integral part of the academic and scientific publishing process. While it can be challenging, it’s also an opportunity for growth and improvement. By approaching this process with a positive mindset, carefully addressing each comment, and making thoughtful revisions to your work, you can navigate peer review successfully. Remember that peer review is a collaborative effort aimed at advancing knowledge, and your willingness to engage constructively with reviewers will contribute to the quality and impact of your research.

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