What Do I Look For in a Response Letter As a Reviewer?

A step-by-step guide for structuring the reviewer’s response letter

Afzal Badshah, PhD
ILLUMINATION
7 min readFeb 25, 2022

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

The research article submitted to the journal goes through several phases. In the first, the editorials evaluate it for different types of queries, for example, the novelty of the idea, the structure of the article and in particular the language of the article. If all goes well, it is decided to review it. However, on the editorial side usually, half of the articles are rejected by reputable journals and half of them are sent for review. Article’s rejection by the editorial board is called desk rejection.

Paper rejected by the editorial board, before sending it for reviewers are called desk rejection. About half of the manuscripts submitted to prominent journals are rejected.

More than two reviewers (with relevant experience) are chosen to assess the paper for various technical details. Each journal has its own review procedure; some respond in six to eight weeks, while some take five to six months or longer. This show that the author have to wait for a long time to get any response from the journal.

The most common reasons for desk rejection are poor language, poor organisation, and a non-novel idea.

Manuscript decisions options

The editorial board has four options for responding to the authors after the reviewers have replied to the editor. Here are these possibilities,

  1. Accept the paper in the current form, however, this rarely happens. No changes are needed and the paper is published in the current form.
  2. The second is the minor revision, the reviewer suggests some minor changes, which authors incorporate in one or two weeks.
  3. The third option is the major revision. For this decision, authors usually revise the major part of the article. Editorial usually give more than one month to incorporate these changes.
  4. The fourth one is rejection. Journal does not accept the resubmission of this article.

Some journals respond within weeks while some take months in initial response.

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Major or minor revision does not guarantee acceptance

Minor or major revision means your article is considered for publication if the reviewer’s concerns are properly addressed. It is not an acceptance, it is a chance offered to the authors to improve the quality of the article. Many papers are rejected after the first review, so authors need to take this seriously to meet the standard.

If you want to publish your paper in this journal and avoid having to restart the review cycle for months, you must work on improving the paper according to the reviewer and editor’s instructions. Editors and reviewers volunteered their time and effort to examine your paper. Every reviewer’s section must explicitly mention the “thank you message”.

Thank you to the editor and reviewers who volunteered their time to help improve your article.

Reading editor and reviewer comments for the first time frustrates all authors. But don’t worry, each author has the same feelings. Go through every comment and suggestion without keeping in mind whether you can respond to it or not. Once you’ve reached all the points, set them aside and relax. Don’t start responding immediately. You would not be able to respond smoothly and could distract reviewers.

Once you reached all the points, set it aside and relax. Don’t start responding immediately.

Once you’re relaxed (in fact, your mind is searching for solutions in the background), create a mind map in your mind that how you’re going to respond to those comments. After relaxing, you’ll definitely be in a good position to answer accurately or work on your manuscript.

Before starting working on the manuscript, create a mindmap to respond to the reviewers.

Once you have created a mind map, all you need to do is to sit and copy your mind map into the response letter.

Responding to reviewers’ comments by Dr Afzal Badshah

How to structure the reviewers’ response letter

In a response letter, you individually respond to the editor and reviewer. Collect the recommendations about which every reviewer talk. Consider it as a major flaw that you have to address. These major flaws are included in the editor portion, so s/he becomes aware of the major changes which have been made. Similarly, if you have any other changes which you have made other than the reviewers’ comments, mention all those in the editor section.

If the authors have made additional changes, they should be mentioned in the editor’s section.

The response letter encompasses the reviewer’s comments, author’s response, and actions. You already have reviewers’ comments, for which you need to write responses and actions after making changes to the article. In the response section, you should write whether you agree or disagree with the reviewers.

For example, the reviewer points out some missing elements in the article, then you should politely respond like; Thank you very much for reporting these missings.

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Response letter to the editorial

I would never suggest directly disagreeing with the reviews. If there are situations where you disagree, you should politely and very carefully explain the circumstances. Your article is under review, so if the reviewer disagrees with you, they may reject your article.

if the reviewers suggest other additions, you can politely disagree with him that it will be out of scope.

The response may be structured in a tabular form or line by line

Two common ways are adopted to structure the response letter, a tabular form and line by line. If your responses are simple and can be adjusted in tabular format go with it. In a tabular format, draw a table of three columns, in the first column y copy the same comments of the reviewer, in the second write the response you have structured, and in the third write the detailed changes you have made. In the action section, you have to write in detail how you addressed the reviewers comments. You highlight these changes in the track file and paste a screenshot with the concerned comments if required. However, if you are using a screenshot of the track changed file, go with a line by line format because the tabular format does not support it.

Responding to reviewers’ comments (line by line)

If you are responding in plain text, I’ll recommend that you use different colours for reviewer comments, author responses, and author action. Different colours will be attractive and will also be easier for reviewers to read or separate these comments.

Reviewers and editors central approach should be used always because you ease them and psychologically satisfy them to get your paper accepted for publication. Everything you write here should be self-explanatory and if the snapshot is needed or any other proof is needed then you have to clearly mention that. if these things are not self-explanatory the reviewers will not get all these points.

Because the reviewers voluntarily work on your article to improve it and if they misinterpret some things or suggested changes that are not aligned with the article you have to respond very politely.

For example, you can say that at this stage we are unable to clearly investigate this however, that is our future work.

If the reviewer or editorial points out some missing, which you have already discussed in the article, then instead of writing that the reviewers are missing those things, you should politely write that you couldn't clearly elaborate on that.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t clearly mention or clarify that. Now, I have restated it to clarify the idea.

Next, if the reviewers make more than one suggestion in a single bullet, divide these comments into sub-parts. If the reviewers suggest four bullet changes, you can divide this point into 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4. This will be obvious to reviewers and editors, and they will understand your point quickly.

Respond to every comment honestly, if you think that some changes are not possible and they are difficult to do, or at that time you are not able to do these changes, instead of leaving this point, you have to logically explain why you are not going to incorporate. This is not ethically good to not respond to any point. Furthermore, while responding to the comments, instead of explaining too many unnecessary things you have to go directly to the points that the reviewer has suggested. This will make the reviewers task easy.

Responding to reviewers is critical. A single wrong step can reject your paper at that stage. Therefore, be polite and careful while writing to an editorial. Hopefully, the discussion above will help you in your next response.

To explore more about professional academic writing, please see the following collection.

Academic Writing Skills

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Afzal Badshah, PhD
ILLUMINATION

Dr Afzal Badshah focuses on academic skills, pedagogy (teaching skills) and life skills.