Reviewer comments and how to respond

Reviewer: The English is not good enough for publication

Author: Some of the reviewer’s comments were so badly written, how can he be a good judge of English!

  • It’s true that many reviewers do not have English as their first language. Perhaps they found your English was difficult to understand, or perhaps they were afraid that other reviewers would point this out and felt embarrassed if they did not say anything about the English language. Some non-English speakers feel it would save face if they criticised the language.

Author: You asked a colleague from the US to read your paper and he said it was fine!

  • Perhaps the English in your paper was OK, but just not good enough for publication. Perhaps your colleague was trying to be nice, and did not want to say he thought the English was not good enough. Perhaps your colleague didn’t want to get stuck with the job of re-writing your paper. Perhaps he just didn’t understand your paper and didn’t want to admit it.

Author: You think the reviewer is judging your English more harshly because it’s from China.

  • Most journals operate a “blind” peer review, i.e. anything identifying the author is removed before sending for review. However, there are often clues within the paper, such as mentions of previous publications, or of Chinese research. Also any native English speaker will pick up on English that just does not sound natural to him, even if technically grammatical – do you know any Americans who can write flawless Chinese?
What you should do
  • Do you know anyone with excellent English who you could ask to advise you on the English in your paper? Ideally, this should be someone who understands the subject matter of your paper, or at least is familiar with the demands of scientific publication.
  • Use the services of a company like ISE, with a proven track record of English language editing for scientific papers. For further information, contact us here at
How to respond:
  • We regret there were problems with the English. The paper has been carefully revised by [a native English speaker]/[a professional language editing service] to improve the grammar and readability.

Reviewer: There’s nothing new in this paper.

Author: Of course there is! Didn’t he read it properly?

  • Perhaps this got lost in the detail of the paper when you wrote it. Many authors get carried away writing their methods and results, with a wealth of data, but forget to add a strong conclusion.
  • Perhaps you did not want to boast too much about your findings, or thought that it was obvious that the results showed a major step forward.
  • Perhaps you did not discuss other research in the area, either because you assumed the reviewer would be familiar with it, or you did not want to draw attention to similar work. Maybe the reviewer thought you were not aware of this research.
  • Perhaps there really isn’t anything new in your research. In that case, it is unlikely to get published. But surely there is something new to report: a larger study group, a different method or study population?
What you should do
  • Remember that many editors say that the number one reason for rejecting a paper is because it does not present something new. Although most research builds on work done before, no one wants to waste time reading about research that doesn’t show anything new. Therefore you must make it clear what is new about your research findings.
  • Read through your paper carefully to identify areas where you could clarify what is new.
  • Pay particular attention to the abstract, discussion and conclusion (or concluding sentences)
  • Add more details about the implications of your research
  • If necessary, add some more detail about other research in this subject area, and how your research differs from this. Discuss conflicting research.
How to respond:
  • Thank you for this valuable feedback. Our research [is the first to show that…]/[confirms the findings of White et al. in a younger age group…]/[improves the yield of…]. We have added a sentence to the Abstract (page 2 line 5, and paragraph to the Discussion section (page 15 starting line 8), to clarify this.

Reviewer: Points out an error in your paper

Author: Oh, no! I am so embarrassed, I will just withdraw my paper!

  • Everybody makes mistakes, so do not be disheartened. The review process should help you to improve your paper.
  • The review process is usually “blind”, so the reviewer will not know author names or affiliations.
What you should do
  • If you can fix the problem with your paper, then do so.
  • If this requires more experimental research, ask the Editor before proceeding, and indicate the likely time frame.
  • If you can’t fix the problem, can you save anything from your research that is worth publishing?
How to respond:
  • We are extremely grateful to Reviewer X for pointing out this problem. We have [recalculated the statistics]/[revised Table 1]/[re-examined the original scans] and adjusted the text where highlighted.

Reviewer: Points out an error in your paper, but you disagree

Author: This reviewer is an idiot. Doesn’t he know anything about this subject area?

  • Not every reviewer is an expert in the exact field he’s asked to review. It is often hard for a journal to find enough reviewers for a paper. Or perhaps the Editor-in-Chief is not familiar with this area, and assigned the paper to a reviewer from a different field.
  • Nevertheless, the reviewer gave his opinion, and you have to respond to it.

Author: I think this reviewer is biased!

  • The review process is usually “blind”, so the reviewer does not know who the author is.
  • Perhaps you think the reviewer guessed you were non-English speaking, or even from China, and was prejudiced because of that.
  • Perhaps you think the author is biased against certain view points, or research fields.
  • Like all humans, even reviewers have likes and dislikes, they may be unaware of their own prejudices.
  • As above, the reviewer gave his opinion, and you have to respond to it.
What you should do
  • Keep to the facts. Stay polite, but keep emotion out of it.
  • If the reviewers comment is not well founded in fact, it should be quite easy to give a successful response.
  • If you think the paper does not require a change, give a brief explanation with supporting references or data.
  • Perhaps a small change to your paper might clarify the point. Any indication that the reviewer misunderstood your paper suggests you may need to make some changes.
  • If your paper was rejected because of the review, you have to opportunity to appeal the decision. But remember that it is the Editor-in-Chief who makes the decision to reject. Only appeal if you really think the review misjudged your paper.
  • You may submit your paper to another journal after rejection. But remember that there are a limited number of reviewers in any field of study. Your paper may be assigned to the same reviewer by a different journal, and he will not be impressed if he sees that his reviewer comments have been ignored.
How to respond:

Here’s an example where the author felt it was not necessary to make any change, and has tactfully suggested to the Editor that the paper is aligned with other published research in this field.

  • The reviewer has commented that we have used the wrong method to test for ABC. Although we agree with the reviewer that method X was the accepted method in the past, since method Y was introduced by White et al. (J Sci Method 1999:35;1-10) this has become the standard, and so is now mentioned in research reports without further justification (as in the references in cited in our paper). We have already included a citation to the original paper by White et al. If you require further discussion of this method, we will be happy to add a supporting paragraph to the paper.
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