How to respond to reviewer comments

Top tips from our in-house research methods experts on responding to your peer reviewers

Meet the author

Christopher L. Pallas 
Professor of Conflict Management and Political Science, Kennesaw State University

After your manuscript has gone through peer review, you may need to revise it to address the reviewers’ concerns.

If this is not done sufficiently, it could subject your manuscript to another round of ‘revise and resubmit’, ‘accept with revisions’, or worse ‘reject after revisions’.

So how do you respond to reviewer comments productively? You will be expected to prepare a revised version of the manuscript and write a response letter explaining how you have addressed the feedback from your reviewers.

There can be a lot to consider, so read on for a step-by-step guide to make it a straightforward process.

Things to remember when you receive your review

It’s important to show respect to the reviewers as their comments could improve your work in ways you might not appreciate at first. Recognize that they are subject experts in this process – just like you, so unless the editor indicates otherwise, make sure you address every concern raised.

Also, keep in mind that reviewers are busy and reviewing voluntarily so it’s important to try to make re-reviewing as easy as possible. Ideally, the letter should contain a point-to-point response to all the reviewers’ feedback, and excerpts from the manuscript showing the material that has been changed or added. This will reduce the time spent to dig up the original feedback, to confirm all necessary boxes have been checked.

Vector illustration of two characters facing each other and holding a giant coral speech bubble.

9 steps on how to respond to reviewer comments

  • Catalogue the revisions
    Carefully catalogue all the changes requested by the reviewers, and if the editor has added comments of their own – include those as well. 

    Identify each critique, and copy them into a new document, using numbers or bullet points. You should have a separate section for comments from the editor and from each reviewer.

  • Mark up the changes on your document
    Begin thinking about where the revisions will go, and what they need to be by making notes on your list of critiques or in your manuscript.

    Copying reviewer feedback into comment bubbles in the manuscript can help you see where the edits need to go and how the critiques overlap.

  • Start with the biggest changes and be sure to track them
    This may involve significantly restructuring or modifying certain points the reviewers thought differently about. Addressing this early will keep you from wasting time making minor edits to text that may get deleted later.

    Keep all changes marked using comment bubbles or “track changes” so that you can find them later when you are completing your response letter.

  • Update your data
    If the reviewers request changes in the statistical analysis or the presentation of the data, make sure to provide new and updated tables and figures. Keep the old and new versions in the response letter for the reviewers to compare both analyses.

    Explain in your response letter whether the new analysis has resulted in any different data interpretation, and if it is relevant to the research.

    Please read the data sharing policies to understand the requirements when submitting to a Taylor & Francis or Routledge journal.

  • Provide a diagram
    It is often useful to provide a flow diagram or a graphical abstract of your study design along with your main article, especially in STEM field-related articles that involve several experiments and data analysis.

    This helps the reviewers and readers get a quick overview of the research question you are trying to address and can help them assess and analyse the article.

    You can also learn more about graphic abstracts.

  • Clarify and communicate uncertainties
    You may receive comments from reviewers about issues that you think have already been addressed in the manuscript. If this happens, do not assume that the feedback is incorrect, or that the reviewer is lacking in knowledge. If one reader misunderstands how you have communicated the work, others might as well.

    Rather, take this misunderstanding as feedback in itself, and an opportunity to clarify or foreground this material so that a key issue doesn’t appear overlooked. Usually, adding a few sentences, phrases, or citations to emphasize the material is enough.

  • Carefully consider where changes can’t be made
    Alternatively, you may also choose not to make a revision in the manuscript if you think it would convey a significantly different interpretation to the readers or require extensive additional studies.

    This is more relevant for articles related to the STEM fields, where the reviewers may ask for additional experiments that aren’t possible, would take too long, or require extensive resources.

    Always keep in mind that the peer review process is a dialogue, and it is quite natural to respectfully disagree with the reviewer (and the editor) as long as you make a good argument why. If there are any revisions you truly cannot make, note those in the response letter too.

  • Provide a good response letter
    Start your response letter with a short introduction thanking the editor and reviewers for their feedback. You should then have sections marked with headers for the comments from the editor and each reviewer.

    Make sure that each item clearly records the editor’s or reviewers’ words, without paraphrasing or shortening. For example, “Reviewer 1 states, ‘Rodriguez has addressed this issue and her views should be considered here.’” After, explain briefly what you have done to address this.

    For example, “On page 7 I have added a detailed discussion of Rodriguez’s (2019) study of this issue. The revised text reads: …” Then copy in your revised text and any surrounding sentences that are needed to frame it. Put them in italics or as a box quote so that the critiques and the revised text are readily distinguishable from each other. 

    A good response letter can be more than 20 pages, but if properly structured and formatted, it will be quick and easy to follow.

  • Resubmit a clean, anonymized manuscript
    Prepare a clean copy of your revised manuscript which should still be anonymized if the journal uses a double-anonymized review.

    Resubmit it with your response letter and any other required material, then wait for the next round of feedback.

Where to next?

If you’ve found these tips helpful make sure you:

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