Three months ago, I submitted a manuscript to one of the most respected journals in my field. Today, I received comments from reviewers stating that my paper is not worth publishing in the journal. However, the editor decided to give it a major revision instead of outright rejection. Should I proceed to address all the questions posed by reviewers or should I just withdraw the paper and submit it elsewhere to save time?

EDIT: Right now it seems impossible for me to pull off some of the outrageous suggestions from reviewers. They asked me to prove my theory by applying more expensive method that unfortunately cannot be afforded by my supervisor as her grant has already ran out and we lack of funding now. Another reviewer also ridiculed my experimental method and claimed that my method had lots of flaws.

closed as off-topic by D.W., Buzz, Enthusiastic Engineer, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Elizabeth Henning Dec 31 '17 at 2:56

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – D.W., Buzz, Enthusiastic Engineer, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Elizabeth Henning
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 26
    Major revision is pretty common, especially in respected journals. No reason to give up. – Greg Dec 28 '17 at 17:38
  • 5
    No way to tell not knowing the paper and the reviews, but absolutely do take the reviews into consideration and revise the paper accordingly. If you should withdraw is another matter, but my default is to submit the revision to the journal whenever possible. – FBolst Dec 28 '17 at 17:41
  • 27
    How on earth is it "outrageous" to ask you to provide evidence for your theory? Providing evidence is the cornerstone of science. If the only way to provide good evidence is to use an expensive method then tough luck. Ridicule is, of course, unacceptable but is your method flawed or not? If it's flawed, you have a problem. If it's not flawed, you need to explain to the reviewer why you're right and they're wrong. The editor appears to be at least somewhat on your side. – David Richerby Dec 28 '17 at 22:46
  • 3
    Major revisions are quite common to get in journals in many fields. You will need to learn to handle the reviews and their feedback if you want to find a place in science. – mathreadler Dec 28 '17 at 23:33
  • 4
    @alex If you find harsh criticism something you cannot handle, academia maybe not the best career for you. Unfortunately, it is a constant stress source in this kind of work. – Greg Dec 29 '17 at 0:39

Based on the description, I would advise you to sleep on it, suck it up, respond to the reviewers, revise the paper, and submit your revision to the journal.

Yes, reviewers can be absolutely, disgustingly, and unnecessarily rude and mean. Read their review, filter their non-technical rants, keep whatever helpful criticism you can extract from their comments, and address them nicely and respectfully. It may actually be that the techniques you used were adequate but you failed to point out why and how it would be unnecessary to use more expensive methods. Always assume that they are right. If they are mistaken, respectfully point out in your response why you are right and edit the original manuscript to make the issue clearer to future readers.

For instance, if the reviewer wrote:

The methods used in the paper are abysmal. The authors use an outdated and archaic method, which is also very uncertain, to measure the mass of the frogs, which is by weighting them on a scale. The atomic mass interferometer, which uses gravitational waves and is able to precisely infer mass with an uncertainty of one atomic mass unit per kilogram, is the state of the art in weighting.

You can write as a response:

The reviewer is absolutely correct that atomic mass interferometry (AMI) is the state of the art in weighting. However, we opted to use analytical scales to measure the mass of the frogs because the mass variations that we expected to measure are of at least 1 g, a quantity signficantly higher than the uncertainty of even the most rudimentary analytical scales. We do, however, agree, that the quantum mechanical analysis of the molecular buildup in neural entangled channels in during frog electrophoresis, which is suggested as an interesting prospective investigation, will benefit from the low uncertainty provided by AMI.

In order to make it clear that the methods used in our study were adequate, we have modified the original manuscript to include the following sentence in the second paragraph of page 5:

While there are more precise methods to infer mass, such as atomic mass interferometry, analytical scales offer accuracies that are compatible with the 1 g mass variations that were found in this study (see Table 3, for instance).

  • 2
    Do reviewers that make those kinds of comments tend to accept papers after these kinds of revisions? – Mehrdad Dec 29 '17 at 0:53
  • 25
    Reviewers don't accept papers, editors do. However, I once had one reviewer who wrote a five-page review destroying the paper and claiming that I did not understand the foundations of my field. The paper was initially rejected, we appealed to the editor, wrote a detailed, sentence by sentence response to the reviewer, who apologized and recommended acceptance. This was just the most egregious case. I've had several reviewers who wrote gory reviews and ultimately recommended acceptance after a good, thorough and sincere rebuttal. – FBolst Dec 29 '17 at 1:04
  • 14
    Additionally, no one should submit a paper until they are very confident that they can defend the paper from even the most unfair and unnerving reviewer. You should have a strong confidence that the methodology and results are very sound, even if the paper turns out not to be sufficiently transparent. If you are confident, then writing a rebuttal should be reasonably straightforward (after a good sleep during which you smash a reviewer-dressed punchbag). – FBolst Dec 29 '17 at 2:09
  • 3
    Your example was presumably intended to be extreme and satirical, but still, reviewers often make statements that I consider ridiculous, so it's not THAT far out. I would certainly update to reflect the criticism, but I wouldn't explicitly refer to the extreme idea of using AMI: that's both unnecessary and too specific. Rather, I'd address the legitimate question of whether the scales I used were sufficiently accurate for the claimed measurements. Like, "The scales are rated to be accurate to within 0.2 grams, more than sufficient for the requirements of this experiment, etc" – Jay Dec 29 '17 at 16:43
  • 3
    It's almost as if some reviewers care more about how the authors defend their paper than the raw content of the original pa-.... Ooooohhhhhh. – Todd Wilcox Dec 29 '17 at 20:38

I concur with the answer FBoist gave, but wanted to add an emphasis on the fact that in your case, the editor decided to give you a chance to revise instead of rejecting outright. I think this is a sign that the editor sees the potential value in your research work, but wants you to address the legitimate concerns the reviewers raised explicitly, both in your manuscript and the response.

In my own experience, I have had a manuscript which came back with a very long list of suggestions, many of which seemed impossible at the time. In my estimation, the amount of work suggested would have made a good PhD thesis! Through several rounds of review, the paper was modified to address those which we were able to address, make more explicit the limitations of our method, and define some things as out of scope or belonging to future work.

I think the fact that the editor invited you to resubmit means that he believes your work is of enough importance and volume to be published in the journal, but wants to make sure you are able to adequately address the concerns raised by the reviewers.


Given the difference between reviewer comments and editor decision, it would be worth talking to the editor to clarify what's required before you put in a lot of work that may not be necessary.

For example, in response to this:

They asked me to prove my theory by applying more expensive method that unfortunately cannot be afforded by my supervisor as her grant has already ran out and we lack of funding now.

You could query the editor, e.g.:

Reviewer 2 has requested that we use $METHOD to confirm this theory, but due to funding limitations this is not currently feasible. Would it be acceptable if we acknowledge this issue in the 'Limitations' section and include it as a recommended avenue for future work?

(I tend to phrase my "Possible Further Work" sections in a way that suggests it would be really nice if somebody investigates these issues, but without promising that it's going to be me ;-)

  • 2
    If using the technique is critical to proving or disproving the author's theory, then I am sorry, but "not enough funding" is not going to cut it. I can't claim the experimental finding of gravitational waves if I don't have a few billions lying around to construct an adequate experimental set-up. The only way around it is under the condition that the more expensive method is not really critical, in which case the authors should clarify to the reviewers. – FBolst Dec 30 '17 at 1:08
  • 2
    @FBolst Depends very much on context. Not all publications require experimental proof. Poincare and Einstein published theoretical work about the existence of gravity waves a century before LIGO produced experimental evidence to support that theory! I don't think the OP gives enough information to gauge whether the expensive method genuinely is necessary for this paper, or just a "nice to have", but apparently the editor thinks it might be salvageable. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 30 '17 at 6:31
  • You're right. I should've written "claim" instead of theory in the first sentence of my comment. – FBolst Dec 30 '17 at 14:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.