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Handling Peer Review

Responding to Reviewer Comments


Dr. Zachary M. Wilmot, Senior Associate Editor

September 2023

Most manuscripts are not immediately accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal; the vast majority of authors are asked to revise and resubmit their manuscript. When resubmitting your manuscript, you will be asked to write a response letter that addresses a collection of comments and questions from the reviewers. A good response letter can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection, and so it is important to get it right. Before diving in to writing your letter, check out LetPub’s previous article on Drafting an Effective Journal Response Letter, which outlines the broad strokes of writing a good response letter. Then, review the tips below that focus on specific strategies to employ in the responses in the letter to make the process as easy as possible.

Thank the reviewers.
At the start of your response letter, you should include a brief introductory note thanking the editor and reviewers for their work and letting them know that you have made changes in response to their comments. It is also good practice to add a short “thank you” at the beginning of each response (for example, “Thank you for your insightful comment. To address this concern, we have…”).

Ensure that each response directly and adequately addresses the concern.
Make sure to read each comment very carefully and ensure that each of your responses addresses what the reviewer is actually saying. Reviewers are not always clear in their questions and comments, so it is very important to make sure you understand what they are asking for, and then to focus your response on explaining how you have done what they have asked or addressed their concern. Make sure that your explanation and actions are enough to resolve this concern.

In addition, if the reviewer is asking a question, make sure that you do not refer to it as a “suggestion,” and if the reviewer is making a suggestion, do not refer to it as a “question;” ensure that your response demonstrates that you have read and understood the comment.

Keep your responses short.
Reviewers are not paid for the work they do, and do not often have much time to spare to carefully read through every response letter. Thus, it is important to keep your responses as short as possible. In most cases, all that a response requires is thanking the reviewer, explaining how you have addressed their concern as briefly as possible (or explaining why their concern cannot or need not be addressed, again as briefly as possible), and then immediately moving on to the next comment or question. While you may be very passionate about your research and want to explain everything in great detail, the reviewer will probably not appreciate a long discussion of the specifics of your work (unless they specifically ask for this). Keep your responses as short, simple, and direct as possible while still fully addressing their concerns.

A good example to follow for most responses is as follows: “Thank you for your comment. We agree with you that this is an important consideration. Therefore, we have added supplementary analyses in Section 4.2 (lines 415–512).” While sometimes responses may require more in-depth discussion, a response like this one is usually sufficient. Try to write no more than 3–5 sentences in your responses.

Do not quote long passages of your edited manuscript in your response letter.
It is generally best practice to avoid directly quoting your manuscript in your response letter. This makes the letter shorter, more concise, and easier for the reviewer to follow. Furthermore, the reviewer is unlikely to carefully review long passages of quoted text. Instead, use line numbers to refer the reviewer to the modified portions of the manuscript. Short quotes of a single line or less are fine to include in your responses, but try to limit their use.

Always provide line numbers.
Related to the above point, always add the line numbers corresponding to where you made changes to your responses and ensure they are correct before submission, and make sure that they are accurate.

Focus on your actions.
A good response focuses on explaining what exactly you did to address the reviewer’s concern or question. For each response, it is best to include a specific statement about how you changed the manuscript to address the reviewer’s concern, rather than leaving it for the reviewer to figure it out themselves. This can take the form of a single sentence after you have answered any questions and thanked the reviewer, such as: “We have added a discussion of this topic to the manuscript (lines 85–88).”

Take their concerns seriously.
Even if you disagree with the reviewer’s comment, they still have to approve your manuscript for publication. You should never disregard or dismiss any comment a reviewer makes; take each one seriously and take steps to address their concern, even if it is just a small change to the manuscript. If you truly feel that the reviewer’s concern is unfounded, write a brief and polite explanation of why you feel you do not need to make changes to address this concern that demonstrates you are taking their comments seriously, but professionally disagree with their assessment.

For example, consider writing something like this to gently disagree with a reviewer: “Thank you for your comment. We agree that there are limitations to this method; however, other well-regarded studies (for example, [1]–[3]) have used this method to verify their results, and we believe that it measures our desired indicators better and more effectively than other comparable methods. Therefore, we have kept this method in the manuscript.”

Avoid excessive apologizing.
It can be tempting, especially when a reviewer points out an error, to apologize profusely before explaining how the error has been corrected. A simple “We apologize for this error. We have corrected it by…” is sufficient. In fact, in almost all cases, an apology is not necessary at all; you can simply write “Thank you for pointing this out. We have corrected this error.”

Use formal language.
While the language of a response letter does not need to be as technical as the manuscript, you should still use formal and professional language in your responses. This includes avoiding contractions (e.g., don’t, didn’t, couldn’t) and informal phrasing (e.g., nowadays, a lot, sorry). It also means that one should avoid writing “thanks;” instead, use the full form, “thank you.”

Use a normal font for your responses.
It is often helpful to use different font styles to differentiate your responses from the reviewer’s comments, but make sure that your responses in are in a normal font and color to make it easier for the reviewers to read. An italic or bold font can be used to differentiate the reviewers’ text from your own, but make sure it is applied to the reviewers’ comments, not your responses, or else the reviewers may find it difficult to read your response letter; always make sure that your text is the easiest to read.

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