42

To get my first paper published I carefully followed all reviewers’ instructions as I was convinced that reviewers are experienced researchers and reviewers. After major revision my first paper was smoothly accepted.

However, as I progressed in research I also grew to dislike my first publication. Following the reviewers’ instructions made the paper unbalanced and disrupted the line of reasoning. That is because many reviewers request additional changes reflecting their area of expertise, but not necessarily contribute to the original objective and scope of the paper.

I also learnt that ‘the academic standard’ is a broad interpretation depending on the reviewers’ experiences and preferences. Also reviewers make mistakes in their judgement. As I was quickly asked to review myself, this blog greatly helped me in identifying my own mistakes: https://sites.umiacs.umd.edu/elm/2016/02/01/mistakes-reviewers-make/

In following publications, supported by my experienced supervisors, I learned to refute more. Even if I want to compromise, my supervisors will object because it is also a matter of our long-term reputation. The flip-side of the coin is that reviewers get pissed-off because no one likes a rebuttal, no matter how politely and respectfully it is written. It just provokes a response in reviewers to legitimize their views and invites additional scrutiny of my work.

I do however fully agree with my supervisors. It is a balance between short term targets and long term success. It is in essence a matter of personal integrity. But it is also personally stressful and it takes a lot of additional time and effort on the expense of research. I often think, just let us compromise and get the work published smoothly.

How should I deal with this dilemma? Have others had similar experiences?

  • 1
    Sometimes you also obtain feedback from the editor indicating which of the reviewers suggestions are kind of essential for acceptance. – Trilarion Jun 21 '18 at 13:39
  • 10
    People sometimes insist on changes for no other reason than they want to feel like their review had a purpose. There's a technique in software development where you deliberately dangle some small thing that needs to be fixed so code reviewers will be less likely to insist on unnecessary stylistic changes to the rest of your work. – ReinstateMonicaSackTheStaff Jun 21 '18 at 18:52
  • 1
    @TKK Interesting info! I have the impression reviewers more prone to feel like they have to change something are the beginners. Taking revenge on some past reviewer, showing their potential, etc. At least in peer review I am all the more happy if I can wrap it up with some (optional) suggestion, and a compliment. – Scientist Jun 21 '18 at 20:09
  • 3
    @TKK Are you talking about a duck? – user4052054 Jun 21 '18 at 21:40
  • 1
    All interesting! Didn’t know about that software. It shows some of the underlying problems. Second, I also suspect some reviewers take revenge. I can imagine if your are (constantly) treated bad by the system, it pays forward. I agree that a compliment and (optionall) suggestions are wonderful. As a receiver once, it motivated me more and I put great effort in the optional suggestion. A compliment gives wings. – user93911 Jun 22 '18 at 5:13
8

I was never submissive to reviewer's comments. I do not think this has negatively affected my career or publication record. [Disclosure: I have not published in the top journals.]

My first paper was heavily criticised by committee members, and reviewers from 2 different journals. I could immediately perceive the ups and downs of our project, helped by constructive criticism. Also I could see where a reviewer wasn't being fair. From my first Response to Reviews I have been cold, objective, and responsive to every comment according with our impressions. I have refuted the views of reviewers and editors alike, with the help of my supervisor. That paper was heavily modified and rewritten times over from its draft version down to publication [= ca. 1 year]. I am quite happy with the result and it remains one of my most cited and read papers.

I have encountered co-authors who would tell me to be sweeter towards reviewers, horrified at how casually I approach my Response to Reviews. On the other hand I have seen too many authors vilifying anonymous reviewers who had made fair comments and suggestions on their work.

Thus my answer to you is that you should be willing to make any amount of modification on your manuscripts towards making it easier to understand. Do not get emotionally attached to your papers as a piece of artistic creation. Good reviewers are there to help you produce clear, concise scientific literature, where your style and taste have no taste. And finally, do not focus on just getting papers accepted for publication, because this is where you empower bad reviewers and ultimately journal mafias. First try to neutralise a bad reviewer, and if unsuccessful just publish your piece elsewhere.

  • 3
    Yes, if reviewer says "The figure X is too small", then the appropriate response is "Figure X has been made larger". One reserves sweetness for the truly helpful insights, like "Your method is basically an improvement of X, so please cite X" (where X is something that is generally accepted as good). In that case you would thank the reviewer for the piece of information (which is good news). – xmp125a Jun 21 '18 at 16:04
  • 1
    What strikes (and inspires) me in your message is initially it may take additional time but in the end it benefits you more. Thank you. – user93911 Jun 21 '18 at 17:27
  • 1
    @xmp125a As you say, I don't see why anyone should go beyond professional interaction with their reviewers or editors. Overt reverence may be taken as some implied 'illegal' dealing, whilst emotional responses may communicate that the author's logic is biased. Both stances are beneficial for manipulators, and I believe we all know how many cheaters exploit the privacy of peer review. – Scientist Jun 21 '18 at 17:47
  • @Alice Glad it helps! Fear no reviewer. In the end, you're among them. – Scientist Jun 21 '18 at 17:50
31

When I started writing papers, my supervisors advised me that I should consider the reviewers' comments and suggestions but not be bound by them. When revising papers after reviewer feedback I would write a response letter addressing each point, whether I had incorporated the reviewer feedback or not, and importantly - why (or why not). In most cases I found that the editor considered a justification for not amending (a portion of) the paper to be acceptable.

In one case a reviewer wanted what amounted to a literature review of possible alternative solutions, which we considered to be far beyond the scope of what we were reporting in the paper and we ultimately withdrew the paper and submitted it to a different journal.

  • 7
    In one case a reviewer wanted what amounted to a literature review of possible alternative solutions... - surely you could have addressed this with the editor? – Bryan Krause Jun 21 '18 at 17:07
  • Thank you. Good point. You stress the importance of including motivations in your response letter. And sometimes you just have to take another route. – user93911 Jun 21 '18 at 17:23
13

You can politely write the editor to replace a reviewer or at least choose an additional reviewer (with better expertise for arbitration) if you are not convinced of the expertise of a reviewer. Then the rebuttal has to be also well written in a manner that will not be directed at their feelings. You must appreciate that good reviewers would also like to put in their best to properly shape your paper.

Another point (and this is worth pondering over) is that most times, good reviewers and good feedback would project to you how the audience (or some of them) would perceive your work (if it is published that way). That may be one of the reasons why it is not surprising to see very good papers in esteemed journals without a citation!

When we write, we do for others to understand. Sometimes there may be a gap between what we wish to pass across and how the reader views it. In ideal cases, this could be well understood from the feedback of the reviewers. Remember it is might be difficult to get feedback from others (especially when they are far away) when the paper gets published.

Also, the 'creativity' of experts chosen by the journal's Editor would add some 'flavour' to your skill and presentation.

Another point is that, when your paper is published so many kinds of people (and researchers) would likely read through your document. The reviewers comments would give you an idea of how effectively your message is conveyed to this wide audience.

So most times (except for instance if the reviewer is technically wrong or he did a bad job), it is mainly a question of the level of your objectivity to the feedback you get.

6

The catch with reviewers (if properly chosen) is that they ARE the sample of your audience. If they think that the paper needs changes, the audience will perhaps think your paper is not very good as well (and subsequently the paper will be less read and less cited).

There are of course situations when reviewers totally miss the point of the paper, or even worse, get diametrically opposing ideas and in such cases satisfying the reviewers can be real pain.

But nevertheless, they are still sample of your audience. Maybe your paper was not clear enough (perhaps it is clear to you and your coworkers, but you are perhaps all biased).

So generally, it is not such a bad idea to satisfy reviewers, but, of course there may be cases of incompetent or lazy reviewers as well. But more often than not, it is author's fault.

  • Thank you. You are right. Reviewers are samples of your audience. – user93911 Jun 21 '18 at 17:28
1

As per xmp125a's answer, reviewer suggestions should be taken very seriously, as the article is written for its audience, not for its authors. When a reviewer do not understand something, it often means that the article is not clear enough.

Still it happens that reviewers conspire with the journal to make a paper worse. (In particular, journals have obnoxious formatting requirements.) Preprint archives provide a solution to this problem too: you can have your preferred version on the archive, and do whatever it takes to get the paper published in the journal. Beware of potential reader confusion though: the differences between the versions should be clearly stated somewhere.

0

As assistant editor, I need to tell you that finding a reviewer that will accept, reply and evaluate in a timely manner someone's manuscript, extremely hard.

What you should understand, is that peer review is not there for suggestions, it is for critical evaluation. They don't collaborate with you on the work, and you should be able to argumentatively and factually dismiss those claims if you think they are not in the place. we receive 10 pages of long reply on major revision decision. When articles have 4 or 5 pages. However, specific culture (now everything is internationalised) understand peer-review as "God-wisdom", not so uncommon, they are discouraged to resubmit even after the final decision for only minor changes (in which referee suggested a repetition of the experiment).

for ex, one reviewer found odd that mouses (lab rats) don't have the 37-degree body, poor Eastern Asia scientist repeated the whole thing again, something that can be explained as seasonal characteristic of some mammals.

Also, peer review is voluntary, free and most of the time anonymous work done by peers, that can be more or less better in the field than you, or in some cases only slightly related.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy