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How to Address Reviewer Feedback


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Slides during my public lecture in UKM. Entitled: "What Doesn’t Kill You Make You Stronger-Surviving Journal Reviewer Feedback"

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How to Address Reviewer Feedback

  1. 1. Surviving Journal Reviewer Feedback Rosdiadee Nordin Centre of Advanced Electronic & Communication Engineering Faculty of Engineering & Built Environment : : : __________________________ Pusat Kejuruteraan Elektronik & Komunikasi Terkehadapan
  2. 2. Before Peer Review • … editor made decisions without seeking outside input • … until 1665, Henry Oldenburg ‘invented’ the academic peer review for ‘Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society’ • Current peer review system has been systematically established since WWII • The peer review system is very old & doesn’t see much changes
  3. 3. Need for Peer Review • The heart of scientific publication & critical phase • Publish or perish – career, academic promoted & won a Nobel prize! • Peer review reports serve two main functions: • to inform editor whether work is novel, significant & suitable for publication • to inform authors on errors, means of improving their manuscript
  4. 4. Drawbacks of Peer Review • In 1976, editor of ‘Philosophical Transactions’ rejected manuscript from Edward Jenner on first vaccination • Failure to identify novel work • Suffer from intellectual suppression: • ‘Rich get richer’ • Strong bias against negative studies • Bias on nationality, gender, language & specialty
  5. 5. Drawbacks of Peer Review • Reviewer is busy & demotivated person • Results in publication delay • However recently emerge few incentives to boost motivation • Free subscription, acknowledgement & discount for publication charge
  6. 6. Peer Review Process Editor’s Decision Accept without revision Ask for minor revision (likely acceptance) Request major revision (likely re-review) Rejection
  7. 7. Reviewer is a Very Honest Person… “Since you submitted the paper to a scientific journal: where is the science?” “I am not sure why there is a full section about limitations, this in itself says a lot about the study” "I’ve never read anything like it & I do not mean it as a compliment” “Words are used inappropriately – I count, for example, 13 instances of 'unique', but it is used correctly only once”
  8. 8. Need for Peer Review • Reviewers give recommendations • Ultimately, editor makes the decision • Respond to reviewers' comments is a tricky deal • Get it right –published! • Get it wrong –rejection! • Require some ‘art’, negotiation & communication skill!
  9. 9. How to Respond to Reviewers? Digest the reviews Revise the manuscript Communicate revisions to editor
  10. 10. Step 1: Digesting the Reviews • Read the reviews ONCE, and then file them in a SAFE location • Don’t think about the reviews for few hours/days/week* • Instead, do fun things like watch movie, sports, holiday, etc** • Read the reviews again • Discuss the reviews with your co-authors • Create plan-of-ATTACK! *No specific quantity for this… **Practice with caution
  11. 11. Step 2: Revising your paper • Address ALL comments • You can’t pick which comments to address • Even minor comments need to be addressed • Address does not always mean change • You and co-authors should decide what to change, and what to defend • Often, changing is the easiest route • Always change errors in references • Skilled reviewers know the history better than newer authors • You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with experts in the field by not citing the correct papers!
  12. 12. Step 2: Revising your paper • Change does not always mean revamp • Easy changes include: • Rewording • Adding extra references • Adding an extra paragraph, table, figure • Adding an appendix • Difficult changes include: • Modifying your central hypothesis • Modifying your main algorithm • Redoing an experiment • Start with easy or difficult changes?
  13. 13. Step 2: Revising your paper • Change parts which yielded “I didn’t understand” • If the reviewer didn’t understand it, the readers might not either • “I didn’t understand” is a polite way of saying “you didn’t explain clearly enough” • Even if: • Requested change unnecessary • Text is clear (the reviewer simply missed it) • It is better to revise • Goal is to tell the reviewer that they were listened to and understood
  14. 14. Step 2: Revising your paper • Do not pit one reviewer against another! • Reviewer from different background • Different view, opinion and expertise – helpful to the editor • If there’s a conflict, choose one that will improve the paper
  15. 15. Step 2: Revising your paper • Always change parts which have been mentioned by many reviewers • If two or more reviewers make similar comments, the readers will likely have the same comments • Repeated comments stand out to the editor • It’s OK if you don’t agree with your reviewer
  16. 16. Step 3: Communicate with Editor/Reviewers • Letter to the editor & reviewers • Provide overview & detail of amendment • Summary of changes/defences • Write this first/last • Short & sweet
  17. 17. Step 3: Communicate with Editor/Reviewers • To help the reviewer navigate your response • Use changes of font, color, or indenting to discriminate between 3 different elements: • The review itself • Your responses to the review • Changes made to the manuscript • Make use of track changes & comment box
  18. 18. Step 3: Communicate with Editor/Reviewers • Make a dialogue-type list of comments and responses • For changes: Indicate location (page, paragraph & line numbers)
  19. 19. Polite & Respectful • Even if the reviewer lacks intellectual capacity, please refrain from conveying this impression to them • Imagine if you see him in person • If the reviewer not the expert, but this level of expertise (or lack thereof) may be representative of journal readers • Make the work clear and accessible to all readers, not just experts • Thank the reviewer abundantly • but don’t overdo
  20. 20. Polite & Respectful • Do not use AGGRESSIVE or defensive tone • Example 1: • What you want to say: That experiment would take forever! • What you should say: The suggested experiment is interesting and would provide additional information about..., but we feel that it falls outside the scope of this study • Example 2: • What you want to say: You just didn’t understand what we wrote! • What you should say: Several statements that we made were more ambiguous than intended, and we have adjusted the text to be clearer
  21. 21. Make the Response Self-Explanatory • Quote changes directly in the response letter • Refer to specific line number where changes applied • A self-explanatory response letter makes it easier for the editor/reviewer to understand changes • No need to go back & forth between manuscript & letter • Reduce chances editor/reviewer to read full manuscript (or find new things to complain) • Editor can make quick decision! • Only exception is when the modification is large (addition of new paragraphs, graphs, methodology)
  22. 22. Respond to Every Point • Often, reviews will be organized into bullet points • But reviewer may raise two (or more) separate issues within 1 bullet • Be sure to respond explicitly to all critiques
  23. 23. Begin Response with Direct Answer • Begin your response to each comment with a direct answer to the point being raised • Provide a “yes” or “no” answer • When the reviewer is correct, state so in your response
  24. 24. Write the Response Twice (At Least!) • Initial document can be incomplete/inaccurate to address concern • It can also be a place to vent your frustration! • Once the initial draft finish, or after several days/weeks later... • You become rational! • Eventually, you will write what the reviewers want to see • You can also write a separate letter to the editor • Address issues such as potential conflicts of interest, reviewers' requests conflict with one another or with journal policies
  25. 25. Top 10 Rules • Rule 1: Provide an overview, then quote the full set of reviews • Rule 2: Be polite and respectful of all reviewers • Rule 3: Accept the blame • Rule 4: Make the response self-explanatory • Rule 5: Respond to every point raised by the reviewer • Rule 6: Use typography to help the reviewer navigate your response • Rule 7: Begin response to each comment with direct answer • Rule 8: When possible, do what the reviewer asks • Rule 9: Be clear about what changed relative to the previous version • Rule 10: Write the response twice
  26. 26. Recap • When digesting reviews: • Try not to take things personally • Expect at least one harsh reviewer • When revise the paper: • Divide and conquer (do difficult changes first) • When addressing the editor/reviewers • Communicate your changes, making an extra effort to be professional and thankful • You can disagree, as long as you explain
  27. 27. Key Takeaway • Process of responding to reviewer is the stressful part of publication • But, reviewers volunteering their time to ensure validity of results and quality in our research area • Manuscript after review process is an improvement from the original
  28. 28. Thank You! Q&A