Communicating with your peer reviewer (part 2)

Point-by-point responses

Every reviewer comment should be numbered (if they are not already) and a clear, thorough response provided for each. If you agree with the reviewer’s suggestion, you should say so and explain how you have modified your manuscript. 

For example:

Reviewer’s comment:

  1. The standard deviation is large in the data described in Figure 3, so ANOVA should be used after confirming the normal distribution.

Author’s response:

We agree with this suggestion, so have modified our statistical analyses. ANOVA was performed after first carrying out logarithmic transformation of all variables. We have described this change in the Statistical Analysis part of the Methods section (page 4, lines 15–20). We also modified our Results (page 7, lines 2–6) and Discussion sections (page 9, lines 11–13) and have redrawn Figure 3 based on the revised data. 

Note the use of italics to distinguish the authors’ response from the reviewer’s comment, the clear explanation of what was done in the revised manuscript, and the use of page and line numbers to indicate where the changes have been made. It is a good practice to include the page and line numbers only after all revisions are complete so that they will be correct when the manuscript is resubmitted. 

In addition to stating that you agree, journal editors want to know why you agree. Do you really understand the reviewer’s concern? You should also describe what revisions were made and where those revisions can be found. Journal editors are very busy and hope to find all the information about your revisions clearly described in your response letter.

Disagreeing with a reviewer’s opinion

If you disagree with a reviewer’s suggestion, you will need to prepare a rebuttal: a counterargument to the reviewer’s comment. Although it is acceptable to have an opinion different from the reviewer’s, you must explain why. In such cases, remain polite and respect the viewpoint of the reviewer, but explain why your reasoning differs from theirs. 

It is also helpful to include a citation to back up your argument, and, if possible, to make a small change to the manuscript based on the reviewer’s comments. This shows that you are not overly defensive, and that you are receptive to criticism and advice. This is an important part of scientific study. 

For example: 

Response: Although we acknowledge that the use of ANOVA would enable us to better compare our findings with those of other studies, our data did not follow a normal distribution so we could not perform this analysis. Therefore, we re-analyzed our data based on the Leverhaus model (Leverhaus et al., 1978) and have modified the Methods section to describe this analysis (page 4, line 8). We also revised Figure 3 and added two sentences to the Discussion to explain this model (page 10, lines 1–3). 

If an expert in your field (i.e., peer reviewer) was confused as to how something in your study was done, this suggests that you did not clearly describe it in your manuscript. Therefore, even if you disagree with a reviewer, you will likely need to revise your manuscript anyway to clarify that confusion for readers.

Response checklist

The following tips are useful to remember when responding to reviewer comments: 

  • Be polite in your responses. 
  • Address each comment in turn. 
  • If you disagree with a comment, explain why and provide evidence to back up your claim. This could be in the form of a recent paper or some unpublished results from your own group. 
  • Ensure that your replies are distinct from the reviewer comments. You could use different fonts, text color, bold or italic text, or paragraph indents. 
  • Changes to the manuscript text should be obvious, again perhaps using bold font, color, highlight, or strikethrough to show deletions (deletions). It is also helpful to provide the page and line numbers of changes in the text so that the editor can readily find them (e.g., page 4, line 8; page 12, lines 13–20). 
  • Describe any major changes to your work, such as the additional experiments carried out, the removal of figures or tables, or the new statistical analysis conducted after consultation with a statistician. 
  • Seek advice from a colleague. It can be useful to obtain alternative viewpoints from other scientists familiar with your work. Asking a scientist outside your group for an opinion can help you take a step back and view your findings in a wider context. 

Keep to the deadline set by the journal editor for returning your revised manuscript. Use the same manuscript number in correspondence and, if you have changed the manuscript’s title, state the old title at the start of your response letter; you can explain in the letter how and why the title has been revised.

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