Responding to editor decision letters and reviewers' comments
Submitting your article to a journal is only the first step in the process to getting published. In the vast majority of cases, papers will require at the very least some further changes or review based on the feedback from the journal editor and reviewers: it is very rare that journals accept articles without any amendments from the author(s). Every author faces rejection in their career!
First, let us consider the types of verdict that a journal will use. They may give them slightly different names, but the following list is typical:
1. Reject outright without review
2. Reject outright following review
3. Accept, but only after major revisions
4. Accept, but only after minor revisions
5. Accept outright
Now, let us focus particularly on 3 and 4. These are the cases in which there are still opportunities for your paper to be accepted, but handling the comments from the journal reviewers is a critical next step in ensuring that your paper is reconsidered and has the best chance of being accepted.
How should you deal with reviewers’ comments?
Firstly, journals will typically send you a full list of the comments from each reviewer along with the editor’s verdict and letter. You should therefore clearly see the comments from each reviewer.
1. Read the comments carefully, and be sure that you understand them and why they have been raised.
You may feel upset at being rejected, or disagree with comments that are raised. However, rejection and disagreement are normal parts of scientific analysis and debate, so don’t take them personally. Remember that they are meant to help improve the paper.
If you do not understand any comments, you should be specific about raising this in your own responses, or write to the Editor for further explanation. Before that, though, discuss them with your co-authors to be sure that you are all clear about the comments and your next steps in addressing them.
2. Prepare a document of response.
Think about every comment and how you wish to respond. When writing your responses, be clear, concise and use evidence to show your changes or reasons why you have dealt with the comments in a particular way.
3. Respond to every comment and suggested change, one by one.
- Copy and paste each comment into a new document (don’t just refer to ‘Comment 1, Reviewer 1’ as this will take time for the journal staff to cross-reference). Put your answer after each individual comment.
- Refer to text where changes have been made. Don’t refer to page numbers, but use line numbers or cite the start of the sentence in the particular section.
- Clearly explain any suggestions you disagree with and why (and give evidence to show this).
- Be positive, polite, and concise.
4. Meet the deadline!
Most journals have specific deadlines for receiving back revised submissions. Be sure that you make it! Plan your response so that you have sufficient time to write up your answers and make any changes to your article. It could take time if you need to revisit data, or make extensive changes such as word count reduction or adding in additional content.
5. Don’t just submit the original version to another journal.
Even if your paper is rejected outright, don’t just send the original version to another journal: it is possible that another journal will give a similar verdict (and possibly even use the same reviewers!), so use the feedback as an opportunity to revisit your paper before you decide what next steps to take.
What about if reviewer comments disagree with each other?
This is actually quite common. For example, reviewer 1 might state ‘Table 2 is superfluous – please remove’, whereas reviewer 2 might state ‘Table 2 requires additional explanation on the dataset reported in column 3’. Which do you go with? Use your judgement and consult with your coauthors, and be clear in your response why you feel you opted for removing data rather than adding to it. Again, be specific when making reference to changes you have made – cite the specific line/table number and what you have altered and why.
… And what if my paper is still rejected?
In such cases, discuss the response with your coauthors and decide whether you wish to appeal your case to the journal editor… or move on and submit to another journal. As mentioned above, don’t submit the original version to another journal before fully considering the nature and scope of alternative journals.
Additional help and support
Any questions? Charlesworth Author Services can help prepare you with interpreting and responding to reviewer comments and ensuring that these are accommodated within your revised submission. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.