How to respond to reviewer’s comments on your manuscript

You might be frustrating the people who peer-review you manuscripts without even realizing it. Here are some brief tips on reducing peer review friction from my experience as an author, reviewer, and associate editor.

Copy and paste each reviewer comment (number them yourself if you have to) and respond to each one in turn. This seems like common sense, but I’ve come across many responses to my peer-review queries in which I have to spend time searching and figuring out which comment the authors are actually responding to.

Don’t just write something like, “We updated the introduction”. Paste in the chunk of text you updated into the response document, also noting its location in the manuscript. Some journal systems add line numbers to PDFs. If they don’t, add your own so you can refer to them in your response.

Err on adding more info rather than less. When reviewing a paper, I’ve never thought, “That author provided too much info in their response”.

Working Hands
Photo by Corinne Kutz / Unsplash

It’s fine to disagree with a reviewer, but actually explain why, rather than deferring to your authority in the field. I’ve gotten a response like, “We disagree because we’ve been doing this for 20 years” a few times recently. This is not a classy move.

Unless the journal explicitly tells you not to, paste figures and tables in relevant sections of the manuscript. Don’t make the reviewer work harder than they need to by making them move back and forth to the end of the document. I’ve heard of a few people that just do this anyway, even if the journal advises against this. The worst that can happen if you take this approach is that the editorial office returns your submission for correction.

If you can choose your citation style upon first submission (lucky you!) choose an “author, year” in-text citation system (unless this is very uncommon in your field) so reviewers don’t have to flip to the back to check which paper you cited.

Don’t ignore hard-to-address comments thinking that reviewers will miss these. I’ve seen authors try this (it’s always the hard comments they “miss”). Reviewers notice these things.

All these things come down to giving your reviewers LESS work to do. We like to think that peer review is objective, but it’s not, because a human is doing it. All things equal, you’re more likely to get a favorable evaluation from a happy reviewer than an annoyed reviewer.

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