How to answer reviewers for a journal paper revision?

Today, I will discuss how to prepare the revision of a journal paper after receiving the editor’s decision that the paper will be accepted with minor or major modifications.

reviewer

As most people should know, when submitting a paper to a journal, the decision is usually “accept”, “accept with minor modifications”, “accept with major modifications”, “reject” or “resubmit as new”.  In the second and third cases, the author has to revise his paper according to the reviewers comments and to write a file generally called “summary of changes” to explain how the author has addressed the reviewers’ comments.

So let’s look at how to write a file “Summary of changes” to answer reviewers:

  • You should first say thank you to the reviewers for the useful comments that they have made to improve the paper.
  • Then, in the same file, you should explain how you have answered each reviewer comment that requires to do something.
  • To do that, I suggest to organize your document as follows. Create a section for each reviewer. Then, in each section copy the comments made by the reviewer and cite it as a quote (“…”). Then explain below the quote how you have addressed the comment.  For example, your document could look like this.

  SUMMARY OF CHANGES

        First, we would like to say thank you to the reviewers for the useful comments to improve the paper. We have addressed all the comments as explained below.

        REVIEWER 1

                     “Section 3 is too long”

               We have addressed this comment by deleting a few lines at the end of the second paragraph that were not necessary for understanding the algorithm.

         REVIEWER 2

                Reviewer 2 has reported several typos and grammatical errors.  We have fixed all of them and proofread the paper to eliminate all such errors.

  • But how to answer a reviewer’s comment?
  • First, if you agree with the reviewer, you should do exactly what the reviewer ask you to do, and mention that you have done it.  Then the reviewer should be happy. Second, you can disagree with the reviewer and explain why you disagree.  In this case, you only need to explain why you disagree. But you need to explain well why.  Third, it is possible that the reviewer has made a comment that is inaccurate or that you have already addressed in your paper (but the reviewer did not saw it). In this case, you also need to explain that.  So overall, it is important to answer all comments.
  • From my experience, usually 2 or 3 reviewers are assigned to review each journal papers.  In top journals, the reviewers may be expert on your topic.  In journals that are not top journals, reviewers may not be very familiar with your topic but may still be good researchers.
  • Usually, if your paper receive the decision “accept with minor modifications”, there is a high chance that your paper will be accepted if you address the comments well.  If the decision is “accept with major modifications”, there is a risk that your paper may not be accepted if you don’t address the comments well, so you may need to work harder to convince the reviewers.
  • Usually, there is one, two or three rounds of reviews.  Generally, after the first revision, most comments have been addressed. Therefore, the job become easier after the first revision.  Usually, the editor wants that the reviews converge to a decision after about two round of reviews (the editor will likely intervene if reviewers always ask for more things to do).

So these are the advices that I wanted to write for today. Hope that you have enjoyed this post.  If you like this blog, you can tweet about it and/or subscribe to my twitter account @philfv to get notified about new posts.

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 52 data mining algorithms.

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19 Responses to How to answer reviewers for a journal paper revision?

  1. Dang Nguyen says:

    Dear Prof. Philippe,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and suggestions to deal with reviewers’ comments. This entry is very helpful for me since this is the first time I have opportunity to respond to the reviewers. However, I have a concern as follows: should we need to complete point-to-point responses? For example, the reviewer #1 mentions Section 2 is very lengthy but the review #2 doesn’t say anything about this section. It means that I still should delete some unnecessary sentences to satisfy the review #1. There is any risk that the reviewer #2 doesn’t feel happy when reading again?

    Thanks and regards,
    Dang Nguyen

    • Hello Dang,

      This is a good point. I would not worry too much about it though because if Reviewer #2 become unhappy, then you have a good reason to do what you did which is that Reviewer #1 asked you to do it. Then, in the next round of reviews, you could answer Reviewer #2 by stating that it is Reviewer #1 who asked you to do it and then you don’t want to undo what Reviewer #1 asked you to do. Normally, it should be ok.

      Another similar situation is that two reviewers may ask you to do two different things that contradict each other. For example, Reviewer 1 say that you should add more content in the introduction. But Reviewer 2 say that the introduction is too long. In this case, you would need to take a decision and then justify why you choose to do like Reviewer #1 or Reviewer #2 and to explain that you cannot satisfy both of them.

      Another case is that Reviewer 1 ask you to do something. Then you do it. Then he ask you to undo what you did. This has happened to me for an article. The reviewer say ” you should talk about this”. Then in the next version, he say “you should not talk about this”. In this case, what I did is to explain that Reviewer 1 ask me to do contradictory things and so I will not undo what I did, and it was OK. Actually, Reviewer 1 did not do that purposely. He probably just forgot that he had add something else before…

      Best,

      Philippe

      • Dang Nguyen says:

        Dear Prof. Philippe,

        Thanks for your detailed answers. I didn’t think that the process to respond to reviewers is too complicated like that. Luckily, two reviewers don’t ask me to do contrary things like you mentioned. One reviewer requests me to verify the performance of my proposed method on some special datasets. However, I already stated that task be one of my future works. So, do you think I should do that experiment now to make the reviewer happy or I explain him that point is my future work?

        Today, I’ve been notified my another paper was accepted for revision in a different Elsevier journal (SCIE, IF > 1.6). I hope I can prepare my two revised manuscripts in time.

        Best,
        Dang Nguyen

        • Hi,

          1) If the reviewer ask you to do it, maybe he want you to do it in this paper rather than in future works. If it does not take too much time to do it or too much space in your paper (if there is a page limitation), then I would suggest to do it. Alternatively, you could say that you don’t want to do it and keep it for future work. It this case you would should highlight the reason why you keep it for future work and it could be OK. But the more things that you do, the more the reviewer will be happy. So there a choice to make.

          Great, congratulations. By the way, for revising a paper, there is usually a deadline. However, if you need more time, you can always ask extra time by contacting the editor. Usually the editor can give you a few more weeks.

          Philippe

  2. Paul says:

    I have been looking for this information for a while. Thanks

  3. Mohammed says:

    Dear Prof. Philippe,
    Thank you so much for this nice suggestions, it really helps me.
    I have another problem with reviewing, the reviewer ask me to do a simulation on my proposed scheme changing one parameter to be random while I write in the paper that the parameter if fixed. Actually, when I check my simulation I found that the parameter is already set to be random but I make a mistake while writing the paper. What should I do in this case?
    regards

    • In this case, I would tell the truth to the reviewers (you made a mistake and the parameter is actually random), and you should modify the text to say that the parameter is random. In my opinion, if you do like that, the reviewers will understand and it will be ok.

      Best regards,

  4. Prabhu Vijayakumaran says:

    Dear Sir,
    I recently received a comment from a reviewer saying that my paper is not fit for publishing as the work has been done before. But it is actually a misunderstanding. How do I convey to him that it is just a misunderstanding.

    • If the paper is rejected, you may try to contact the associate editor that has handled your article to explain what happened. Then the associate editor would probably ask another reviewer to review your paper. Or another way is to submit the paper again as a new article but to make clear either in the cover letter or in the paper that your paper is not a copy of previous work. Also if you submit again, you should still send an e-mail to the editor to explain your problem and make sure that your paper will be reviewed properly this time.

  5. Aryan Sarmadi says:

    Dear Prof. Philippe
    Please accept my sincere thanks for your comprehensive details and information. Recently, my manuscript took a major revision in a very high-quality journal in Elsevier. In this manuscript, a novel mathematical method and an improved formulation were proposed to address a significant issue in vibration. The manuscript was reviewed by two reviewers so that Reviewer #1 rejected my manuscript because he/she believed that my study has not a good novelty for publication in that journal!!!
    However, Reviewer #2 accepted the manuscript and gave a major revision. Now I have a few questions about this event.
    Is it necessary to reply to comments of Reviewer #1?
    What is your prediction about the risk of acceptation/rejection of my manuscript in such circumstances?
    How can I reply to reviewers’ comment?
    It is important to mention that the manuscript was “Under Editor Evaluation” after the review process.
    With warm regards

    • Hi,
      Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog. It is a good news that they ask you to revise your manuscript, although they ask for a major revision.

      In general, it is required to consider all the comments by all the reviewers and modify your manuscript according to these comments and provide some answers to these comments. If the reviewers ask you to modify something, then you should modify it and explain what you have done. Or if they ask for something and you really cannot do it, you need to provide a good explanation about why you cannot do it or don’t want to do it.

      For the reviewer 1, if he asked you to modify something, then you should do it or answer it. But if the reviewer 1 just complain that your work is not enough novel, then you do not really need to answer this comment. But it may be helpful to briefly explain why your work is novel. Also, you may want to modify the introduction of your paper to better highlight the contribution of your paper and why it is important. Perhaps that the reason why the reviewer 1 think that your work is not novel is that your introduction is not convincing enough. If that is the case, you may want to improve your introduction and explain to the reviewer that you have modified the manuscript to better highlight the contribution of the manuscript. And you may also want to cite some additional papers that show that your research problem is important.

      About “Under Editor Evaluation”, you should not mention this. It is a normal step of the review process. After the reviewers have submitted their reviews to the editor, the editor will check the reviews and make the decision about whether to accept the paper, accept it with revision, or reject it. It is the editor who take this decision. This is what is called “under editor evaluation”. This is just the normal review process so don’t mention it.

      My prediction? It depends how well you address the reviewer comments. If you address all the comments made by all the reviewers very well, then, you have a high chance of being accepted. But if you do not address the comments made by the reviewer well, it is still possible that the paper may be rejected or that there will be another round of reviews, and then you will need to modify the paper again, and after that there could still be another round of reviews. It is quite normal that there are a few rounds of reviews for a journal paper.

      Actually, the editor has asked two reviewers to read your paper. But in the next round of reviews, it is always possible that some of these reviewers are not available or do not want to read your manuscript again. In these cases, the editor may want to ask the opinion of some other reviewers that are not reviewer 1 and 2. So it is possible that in the next round of reviews, some new reviewer will read your paper and may raise some additional issues that were not raised by reviewer 1 and 2.

      So there are still some uncertainty and it cannot be guaranteed that your paper will be accepted at this stage of the review process. But no matter what happen, what you need to do is to make sure that you address all the issues raised by the reviewers well. You should do your best to convince them to accept your paper. That is all you can do.

      Hope this helps,

  6. Adam says:

    Dear Philippe,

    What is the chance for accepting revise for rereview manuscript!!
    Recently I have got the above decision for one of my publication, which has been submitted to one of the ASCE journals . In general, one reviewer is positive and he required a minor revision and the second one is cautiously positive. I have tried my best to addressed all raised issues by them and response to all comments. according to experience who decide the final decision associate editor or editor! and usually, they go with the positive reviewer or negative one!!

    King regards,
    Adam

    • Dear Adam,

      Thanks for reading and commenting the blog. What may happen next is the following:
      – The two reviewers are happy with your modifications, and they will recommend to accept the paper. The decision will be “accept”.
      – One or both of the reviewers still have some issues with the paper. In this case they will ask for another revision. The decision will be “minor revision” or “major revision”.
      – The decision may be reject. This would be quite rare. But it can happens. A reason why a paper can still be rejected after the first round of review is that it is still possible that the associate editor or editor will ask for a new reviewer to read your paper to have a different perspective or for some other reasons. If this happens and that new reviewer does not like your paper, that reviewer could recommend that your paper is rejected, and then it could happen. Another reason why the associate editor or editor may ask for a new reviewer is that one of the original reviewer of your paper may not be available to read your paper again. In this case, the editor may have to ask someone else to read it. There might also be some other unexpected events that may happen.

      Now, I cannot really tell you what is more likely. It really depends on how well you have addressed the comments of the reviewers. It also depends on how good and competitive the journal is. But in general, if you have passed the first round of review, it is likely that the paper will not be rejected. In my opinion, it will be either accepted or there will be another round of review. Depending on the journal, it is possible that there can be several rounds of review. Generally, I see 1 or 2 rounds. But I have ever seen 4 rounds of review in some specific cases. It is quite rare that papers are rejected after the first round. I have seen it at least twice. But it is not very common. Of course, it may be different for different fields (I am in computer science).

      But actually, you are in a very good situation by having one reviewer that asked for a minor revision. This is one of the best situation. If you had two reviewers that do not really like your paper, it would be harder to convince them. But now, since you have a reviewer that already like your paper, it will put more pressure on the second reviewer if there is another round of review. For example, if there is another round and the first reviewer say accept, the second reviewer will have more pressure to also accept your paper.

      In general, the review process should always “converge”. If there are several rounds of review, the reviewers should not ask you to do new modifications after each round. They should rather ask you to fix the remaining issues. And after each round, there will be less issues, and in the end the paper will be accepted. This is the normal process.

      About the role of the associate editor and editor, it depends. Normally, it would be the editor who would have the final word on whether a paper is accepted based on a recommendation from the associate editor. But not all journal may follow this model.

      • Adam says:

        Dear Philippe,

        Many thanks for quick response and providing all of these detail. Now I have better sight about the reviewing process. Actually, my field of work is water resources engineering and we submit our manuscript to the journal of water resources planning and management. Hope they accept it this time.
        A nother request and will appreciate if you can answer it!
        I am reviewing a manuscript and I had rejected the first version of the manuscript as the authors obtained results based on inaccurate methodology has many drawbacks and often leads to wrong results. Now they send the revised manuscript and they have tried to address my comments and issues raised by me by providing a number of papers that have published by one of the co-authors on the relevant area. However, from my personal experience on this methodology,I know it works only under very specific boundary conditions and simple networks. The problem the author shine the provided methodology and believe that work very well and could be applied to any network (which is not true) , and they didn’t mention any drawbacks and limitations of it anywhere in the manuscript. I don’t know how to response to the revision version!!
        Any suggestion and advice from you!

        Regards,
        Adam

        • Dear Adam,

          1) Glad my previous message was helpful. Wish you get some good news about the manuscript soon.

          2) I have edited your message to fix your name 😉

          3)
          That is a kind of tricky situation. Despite the suggestion of rejecting the paper, the editor has decided to give the authors the opportunity to revise their paper. Often, if one of the reviewer suggests to reject the paper, the paper will be rejected by the editor. But perhaps that in this case, the other reviewer(s) have given some good evaluation, so the editor may have decided to give a chance to the authors. Or it may also be because the editor is willing to accept many papers in the journal, and saw that on overall the comments seem not too hard to address. Or there could be other reasons.

          Now what to do in this situation? As a reviewer, you have the right to say that you are not satisfied with how the authors have addressed your comment. So you could either (1) reject the paper again, and explain in more details why the authors have not addressed your comment and they will not be able to address them (there is a fundamental flaw in their paper, so you need to reject it),
          or (2) you could suggest some modifications that would be acceptable to address your comments.

          Now, when you enter your review, you can usually also leave a confidential message to the editor to explain the situation. It might be a good idea to do this if you still think that the paper should be rejected because the author will not be able to fix the issue. But even if you suggest to reject the paper again, the editor may still decide to not listen to you for whatever reason. I have seen this happen before. In one case, there was a reviewer on one of my papers who continuously claim that my paper should be rejected but the editor continued to ask me to revise the paper until it was accepted despite that one of the reviewer was still not satisfied. It does not happen often. But it can happen. In my case, it was not a fundamental issue though.

          By the way, as a reviewer, we sometimes believe that some methods should not work well or should not be researched for some reasons, for example because most people think that a given method is worse than another method commonly used in the literature. But sometimes it is good also to let some papers be published on other methods that do not exactly follow the mainstream idea of what method should work. But if the method has some fundamental issues and it should not be used to draw incorrect conclusion, then it make sense to reject it. As I am not an expert in your domain, I cannot say what is good or bad. But I just want to say that you may consider whether there is something good in that paper that should still be published? And is there a way to fix it? Maybe that a solution is to ask the author to recognize some limitations of their work and in the worst case mention in the conclusion that they could be addressed in future work? Either way, I think that either rejecting the paper again or suggesting some modifications would be an OK decision. You need to think about which one make the most sense for that paper.

          Best regards,

          Philippe

  7. RISHI RANA says:

    Dear Philippe,

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for this post as it has helped me immensely in writing response to the reviewer’s.
    I have a query too, I submitted a paper and now when got the comments back, one of the reviewer has asked to give some string diagrams for GC-MSMS analysis, but unfortunately I am not able to provide them, How should i put this forward to the reviewer?

    Please help.

    Kind Regards,
    Rishi

    • Hi,
      Glad that the blog post is helpful. In the case where you cannot provide the diagram, try to find a good reason to explain why you cannot provide these diagrams. Actually, you need to convince the reviewer that it is OK if you do not provide the diagram. I’m not familiar with GS-MSMS, but in general, here are some things that you could use to answer:
      1) You could say the truth and explain the reason why you cannot provide the diagrams. For example: We did not keep the data because the research was made a few years ago during my Ph.D. and obtaining the data again would require to run all the experiments again (which would take many weeks and would be very expensive). If you can give a reason like that or something else that the reviewer will view as reasonable, then, it can be ok.
      2) You could argue that most people in your field do not provide this type of diagram, and cite some papers in top journals as example that do not provide these diagrams or that say that these diagrams are not reliable or not very important. But this is risky. Maybe that the reviewer will still disagree.
      3) You could provide something else instead of the diagrams as a compromise. For example, you explain that you cannot provide the diagram for X reason but you provide another kind of diagrams or information that would replace these diagrams and give more insight in your research. Not sure that it would work. It really depends on how much you can convince the reviewer.
      4) When a reviewer ask to do something, another way is to mention it in your paper as a limitation of your experiment, and then mention that you could do it in future work. This is a good idea.

      So this is my opinion. In a similar situation, I would probably do 1) and 4). But it depends on the context. Personally, I have done 1) and 4) several times. For example, during my Ph.D. I was doing some experimental evaluation with users and I submitted the journal paper about that study more than two years after my Ph.D. Due to the agreement that I had with the human participants of my experiment, I had to destroy the data after two years (for privacy issues). Thus, I was unable to provide some additional details that the reviewer requested. I explained this in my answer to the reviewer, and it was enough to convince the reviewer.

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