Tips for Responding to an Editor's Request for a Revision of a Manuscript

Tips for Responding to an Editor's Request for a Revision of a Manuscript

What do you do when you submit your paper to a journal, and you are asked to revise and resubmit it?

As a copyeditor, I have read a fair amount of these messages to various authors. Admittedly, an occasional referee may be too harsh, critical, arrogant or unprofessional in the tone of their message. Why would they do this? Who knows why people in general may do rude things, no less a journal editor or referee. Yet more important, I feel your response to such messages should “take the higher road”, being generous, calm and diplomatic as possible, and not stooping to the same level by writing back angry insulting comments in response.

I recommend a cautious diplomatic response because your ultimate goal is to get the paper published, and if they are just asking you to make some reasonable changes, it is not worth responding to the rude comments of the referees.

Another reason I recommend a moderate diplomatic response, is because I have also seen situations where the authors respond to what they perceived as an insult or slight by the referee, but when I read the message of the referee, I saw no such slight. Perhaps it is easy to misread an insult where there is none if English is not your native tongue. Also, I think this may occur because authors are very close to their research, having put their “blood, sweat, and tears” into the work, so when they hear criticism of something they are generally proud of, they may be overly sensitive, and not be able to hear nuance in criticism, which is all perfectly natural and understandable.

I have seen some cases where authors are quite defensive about a study’s shortcomings pointed out by the referee, yet the authors will assume it is a nationalistic differences between the authors and the referees. I have heard many accusations about referees from developed nations not respecting the research from certain developing nations. While there may be some truths to these claims, I think there is also quite a lot of defensive reactivity when author’s receive critical comments. As Swales and Feak recommend, it may be best to just read the comments, and let some time pass before responding. Not much is too be gained by a vitriolic response.

Even if the comments of are referee are entirely irrelevant, incorrect, impolite, biased and prejudices, I recommend using comments like this in response:

While we have fully considered referee B’s comments about X, we respectfully disagree and wish to refer him to recent studies demonstrating X.


We politely beg to differ with referee A’s criticism of our method. We wish to note that our method is fully consistent with the literature on this method.

Here are some general guidelines for corresponding with the journal editor quoted directly from Navigating Academia: Writing Supporting Genres:

1. Remember that an invitation to revise is usually a positive sign. So do not take criticisms personally.
2. Read the editor’s letter and reviewer’s comments carefully.
3. If the editor suggests getting help with the English, choose someone who has some understanding of you research area as well as a good knowledge of the language.
4. Respond to each of the major comments. (Minor ones such as spelling corrections or corrections to references do not need detailed commentary).
5. In your response, help the editor by using detailed references to the text such as “p. 2 first para.”
6. Thank people for useful suggestions but do not automatically defer to the editor or reviewers. If you disagree with a comment, explain why.
7. If you have made additional changes not suggested by the reviewers briefly explain what they are and why you have made them.
8. If you have been asked to revise and resubmit, do so as quickly as convenient.
9. Explain what you are doing about any page charges or fees, if this is appropriate.
10. If you do not plan to revise, inform the editor of you decision.

For further details about Navigating Academia Genres (John M. Swales, Christine Feak):


Other guidelines:

Finally, I am very curious to hear your experiences and opinions about responding to editor’s requests to have your paper