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How to respond to reviewers’ comments on my submitted article for publication?
July 25, 2016
Well, there are some tricks for answering reviewers' comments: 1 Don’t be hasty. Read the comments and then put them aside for a week to percolate (or more accurately diffuse) so that you don’t strike back rashly. 2 Don’t be confused about what your paper says. It can be easy, especially at first, to think you are obliged to implement every suggestion the reviewers make. This will only lead to a Frankenstein paper – a cobbled together mess of spare parts that is barely readable and says nothing. Unfortunately, I speak from experience here of creating a truly frightful and unreadable manuscript. At the end of the day your paper has your name on it and you have to agree with your message. Think about why a reviewer makes a suggestion and what their motivation might be and then evaluate for yourself if it contributes to your paper or not. If you don’t agree or don’t think it adds value to your paper, write back with a measured rebuttal and reference any relevant literature. 3 Don’t get bogged down. It can be overwhelming when you receive a set of negative or mixed reviews that amount to a ream of A4 paper. Where to start? It’s a good idea to view the reviews holistically, rather than looking at Reviewer 1, then 2 and finally 3 sequentially. Are there any common themes? Can you break the major comments into common themes and address these before fiddling around with the little stuff? When reviews are messy it can be easier to start with planning out major improvements and directions to your paper based on a few of the reviewer’s concerns, heading off in this direction and then mapping these improvements back onto the reviewer comments. That is, rather than seeing it as a linear process of Reviewer Comments – Revisions – Response, the process can be a little more circular, Reviewer Comments – Brilliant Ideas – Revisions – Reviewer Comments – Response. 5 Don’t say you’ve done something if you haven’t. It seems ridiculous that I have to explicitly mention this, but so often authors sneakily say that they have implemented a suggestion but have simply ignored it. Don’t be that author. Please. Just don’t. 4 Don’t return a mess*. When you submit a revised version of your paper return clear information, including a marked up document (e.g. with track changes on), a fully revised document and thorough response to reviewer comments. In your response file, make sure that the reviewer comments are easily distinguishable from your responses (use indentations, font or italics), or alternatively put it all in a table with reviewer comments in the left hand side column and your response in the right. Make sure you include line numbers for important additions and revisions, and pull out relevant sentences to show clearly what you have done. This will make it easy for the editor to see that you have given the comments due consideration, without having to flick back and forth between 50 documents. 5 Don’t ignore your tone. Sometimes being succinct comes off sounding lazy and sometimes being deferential sounds obsequious. Try to be respectful and clear without being annoying. Unfortunately, again I speak from early, cringe-worthy experiences of being annoying. 6 Don’t forget your cover letter*. A cover letter is a really important way for you to communicate with the editor and it represents a clear way for you to ‘sell’ your improved manuscript. Outline two or three really important changes that you have made and re-iterate why your paper will be of interest to the journal’s readership. 7 Never be afraid to walk away. Peer review is a strange, petulant and unpredictable beast, a veritable hippopotamus of the academic landscape. Sometimes a beige paper lands stellar reviews and an iridescent masterpiece comes back drawn and quartered. Sometimes reviewers or editors are nasty. There is always another journal that will provide a robust and well written paper with a welcome home, so don’t feel like one set of disappointing reviews is the end of the road. Be bold, walk away and find that place that lets your paper shine rainbows.
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