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How to Receive and Respond to Peer Review Feedback

A thoughtful, thorough approach to your revision response now can save you time in further rounds of review.

You’ve just spent months completing your study, writing up the results and submitting to your top-choice journal. Now the feedback is in and it’s time to revise. Set out a clear plan for your response to keep yourself on-track and ensure edits don’t fall through the cracks.

Keep Calm and Take Stock

From time to time, you’re going to get frustrating comments. Even though it may sometimes feel like the reviewers haven’t spent enough time with your work, are overly-critical, or lack the right expertise, remember that a lot can get lost in translation. Always start by assuming reviewers have the best intentions.

Bear in mind that the goal of peer review feedback is to verify and strengthen your work so that it  is ultimately a more effective communication. Reviewers are a good representation of the journal’s general readership and their reactions can help you craft a better, clearer publication for your audience.

After reviewing your manuscript comments, it might be helpful to take a step back and clear your head. When you come back to it, ask yourself: what are the fundamental issues the reviewer wants me to address?

Set a Plan for Revisions and Response

Don’t lose track of important changes you intend to make. Making a plan for revising and crafting your response to the reviewers can help you organize your steps, get a better idea of what work needs to be done, and make the process run more smoothly.

1. Start a list of essential vs. unessential requests to prioritize your work.

The editor’s note may help you see which edits are required to meet the journal’s standards. Don’t disregard the unessential list, however. While these edits may be “nice to have” rather than “required,” they can strengthen your work for that journal’s typical audience. If you have time and resources to tackle these, do so. 

2. Decide whether you’ll need time to conduct additional experiments.

Don’t shy away from providing additional data. If you already have the data requested by the reviewers, but don’t feel it fits the scope of your work, you can include these in your response as a show of good faith, and indicate in your letter why you think they should be left off the published article. If you need extra time for your revision to complete the additional research, make sure you let your editor know.

3. Make sure you have a system for responding to each comment, and demonstrating your changes.

This might sound tedious, but a clear, point-by-point response can save you time in subsequent rounds of review. Use track changes to show your edits and/or indicate line numbers in your response where the requested change can be found in the manuscript.  

4. Don’t ignore any comments.

Even if you’ve decided not to make a change, your response to the reviewers should explain why you’ve done so. You may need to provide additional evidence as to why this isn’t relevant. That’s OK. Your goal here is to make sure reviewers have enough clarity of your work to understand your thinking. Without an adequate reason, reviewers may request the same change in subsequent rounds of review.

Tip: Build in a little extra time for a final review

Once you’ve updated and revised your manuscript, give yourself a little lee way—let the paper rest for a day or two and give it another read, checking to make sure that your edits make sense with the rest of the paper. For more tips, visit our guide to editing your work.

Conflicting Feedback

It’s almost inevitable that you will encounter reviewers who disagree on a course of action, or even an editor who disagrees with the reviewers. Here are some tips for navigating each case:

Reviewer vs Editor

In general, the editor should be able to provide commentary more closely aligned with the journal’s scope and editorial policies. If the editor disagrees on a suggested edit, you should cite the editor’s comments in your response to the reviewers.

Reviewer vs Reviewer 

  • When two reviewers offer conflicting advice, your editor may be able to provide guidance as to the journal’s standards, and which course of action they feel is more appropriate. As before, be sure to cite the editor’s advice in your response.
  • If the editor hasn’t provided clarity in their response, ask a colleague familiar with your work and check in with your coauthors for a second opinion. 
  • Rely on yourself. Ultimately, the decision to make any change is up to you. Provide a clear and defensible response to reviewers, citing your reasons for complying or not complying with a suggested edit, so that the reviewers and the editor understand your decision. 

Writing Your Response

Include a cover letter. Keep this short, but do call out important information about your changes and any points you wish to clarify further. If you found reviewer advice particularly helpful, thank them for their thoughtful commentary! Here’s a quick template you can follow:

Thank you for taking the time to review and comment upon our manuscript, %%Manuscript Number%%, %%Title%%. We found the advice constructive and have incorporated many of the suggestions into our revision…

We’ve responded to each comment individually below and would like to draw your attention to….

Thank you again for your thoughtful comments…

Sincerely,

%%Name%%

You can also find a number of full  cover letter examples online for inspiration — like this one from the APA Style blog. 

Assume both the editor and reviewers will see everything that you write. If you’ve submitted to a journal with an open peer review process, your readers could see your comments as well

Keep your responses clear, unemotional, and easy to follow. Respond in-line to every comment, indicating line numbers where a change can be found

Reviewer Comment 1: Suggestion for additional charts.

Response: We have not added an additional chart as the requested data can already be found in Figure 1. Instead, we’ve adjusted the colors and weighting to make this line clearer.

Reviewer Comment 2: Suggested clarification or correction.

Response: We have made this change in line 44.

Write your response, take a break, and come back to it. Re-read your comments and make sure they come across calm and professional. If you’re struggling to come up with the right way to say something, try these reviewer response examples for inspiration. 

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