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I've receiced double-blind reviews of a paper I submitted a while ago. However, it seems that only one reviewer actually seemed to "get" the point of the paper: They showed flaws in my work but also appreciated some parts and the review was in general very helpful to me.

The others, however, complained about many things which seem nonsensical to me. For example, they complain that paper is "difficult to read" but simultaneously complain about me corroborating my empirical results with seminal studies from 20 years ago: They seem to either be ignorant of these works and their significance or just don't understand this kind of analysis even though it's in a big section with lots of graphs (i.e. a lot of time was devoted to it)... or they just don't care enough to try to understand.

From their tone and the fact that these reviewers missed main contributions even though they were enumerated in the submission metadata, I fear that the last possibility is probably the main factor: not caring or not taking interest in the paper.

How do I address these reviews which are negative of my work but are in fact not very "good" reviews in themselves due to a lack of expertise and/or caring? The paper has not yet been either officially accepted or rejected but has very poor evaluations from all but one reviewer; There is a very short response period in which I can address the reviewers' points in writing to the reviewers themselves (I think it's to them, at least), but I'm unsure of what exactly to write to them.

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    Related, at least partially a duplicate: Responding to a reviewer who misunderstood key concepts of a paper – Wrzlprmft Mar 27 '18 at 11:15
  • I had the title previously mentioning the reviewers being possibly "ignorant" or "uninterested", which more accurately summarizes the question but might be inflammatory; should I roll it back? – errantlinguist Mar 27 '18 at 11:31
  • To be precise, duplicates are not about the similarities of the question but of the answers, so changing your title changes little. The best you can do is to look at the suggested duplicate, see what part of your question it already answers and then focus your question on the parts it doesn’t answer (and mention the duplicate for reference). – Wrzlprmft Mar 27 '18 at 11:33
  • Okay, thanks for clarifying. Will look at it ASAP – errantlinguist Mar 27 '18 at 11:35
  • I like the answers you got. It is not clear what you are asking by "how to respond". No one can write the resubmission letter for you here. Go and dismantle the referee points one by one. Or go to a specialized venue as for another comment by you suggests that perhaps the journal might be not the more appropriate. Something very interesting on " ir spectroscopy of conjugated polymers " can be totally not interesting for a general chemistry journal, and surely out of the scope on a " dyes and pigments" one. – Alchimista Mar 27 '18 at 12:41
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Having a reviewer fail to understand even the general point of your work is a frustrating, but common, experience. Do you have a chance to respond (i.e. has it been returned for revision, or just outright rejected?). If you do I would attempt to explain, in calm, measured language each point made by the reviewers and why it doesn't make sense and hope the editor sides with you rather than them.

You might like to consider however, that if the reviewers are failing to understand, it is likely that a large section of your audience will similarly fail to understand. In other words, if the venue is broad, then you will benefit most if you write in a way that will be appreciated by the broad audience. Otherwise the editor may reasonable argue that the paper isn't suitable a their "broad-audience" journal, and would be better suited to a more specialised publication.

  • Yes, there is a formal response period, which is why I'm asking explicitly how to "respond" to them (as a formal procedure). The fact that they don't understand is indeed alarming in itself, but the venue is a very large, general purpose one with many subgroups: This means that although there is definitely someone who can understand this paper, it is possible that it was given to the "wrong" people (as opposed to when submitting to a smaller, more focused venue). – errantlinguist Mar 27 '18 at 12:04
  • @errantlinguist just respond in a way to be understandable to reviewer. I always follow RCS guidelines for such a situations – SSimon Mar 27 '18 at 13:31
  • @errantlinguist: if the venue is broad, then you will benefit most if you write in a way that will be appreciated by the broad audience. Otherwise the editor may reasonable argue that the paper isn't suitable a their "broad-audience" journal, and would be better suited to a more specialised publication. – Ian Sudbery Mar 28 '18 at 12:49
  • @IanSudbery thanks: that last comment was also quite helpful. I added it to the answer because it definitely addresses "how do I respond", – errantlinguist Mar 29 '18 at 1:51
  • Advice here is to think about what made him/her take a wrong turn. Put yourself in a hasty reviewer's shoe. Did you misuse a word? showed a confusing figure or made a remark that cause him/her to jump to a wrong conclusion? If you can find these 'triggers', then you respond by saying you believe the misunderstanding is due to X,Y and Z. Revise the paper accordingly, and explain to the reviewer the correct story of your paper. – Prof. Santa Claus Mar 29 '18 at 10:39
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If the referees -- especially more than one -- are not "getting" the paper, then there are just a few possible reasons why this can happen. In order of least like to most likely:

  1. The reviewers are not expert enough
  2. The author is submitting to the wrong journal
  3. The author is not telling the story well enough

The first is rare, but not rare enough. The third is very common.

The proper response to the first two, but for different reasons, is to resubmit elsewhere. For the first, you'd be looking for a journal with a better referee pool. For the second, you're looking for a more appropriate audience.

The proper response to the the third, bluntly, is for the author to write better.

  • Yes, those are valid claims, but this doesn't actually answer my question, namely on how to respond. – errantlinguist Mar 27 '18 at 12:22
  • @errantlinguist, I'll edit – Scott Seidman Mar 27 '18 at 12:24
  • I'm sorry, but you still don't understand; read the question again, especially the concluding paragraph. It's about a response to the reviewers. – errantlinguist Mar 27 '18 at 12:37
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    Your response would be "Based on the reviews, it seems that it was not clear enough that X. I have reformulated section Y to clarify this." – Keelan Mar 27 '18 at 12:41
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    You talk of the referee pool as if it's a fixed set of people. In my experience, a good editor will search the appropriate people and invite them as reviewers, even if they haven't reviewed for the specific journal before. Unless the paper is completely out of scope for the journal, which, in a well-managed journal, would lead to a desk rejection anyways. – lighthouse keeper Mar 27 '18 at 13:02

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