I got a paper accepted for a data science conference. It has a more "philosophical" tone and does not talk about any concrete method from data science, but more about how data science should be conducted.

One reviewer criticized the lack of methodology in my paper. What I actually did was going to Google Scholar, look for a recent review paper about the topic, and then swinging from reference to reference until I had a good argument. The argument itself was commended by the reviewer.

How can I address the reviewer's criticism?

2 Answers 2


The "method" you describe is probably not rigorous enough to be called a method in the scientific sense. There is a lack of rigor apparent in your admission that you swung "from reference to reference until I had a good argument." The quote suggests some bias in the procedure and in your selection of information, and your search strategy doesn't seem to be reproducible.

There is a method called "systematic review" that ist different from what you describe by its (relative) objectivity and reproducibility.

But more than a method, what you applied is a common practice that most researchers apply, without thinking much about it, to find literature to include in a review section or in a review-type article. If swinging from "reference to reference" involves going through the references of each paper you dug up, and looking at their references etc., you could call it "a snowball procedure".

However, fancy words won't impress a reviewer. As far as the review is concerned, I would not suggest to claim that you applied a rigorous method if you didn't. Rather, I would reframe the purpose of your paper: Call it a state of the art review, or an exploration of some topic.


I think the term you're thinking of is "paper review". (Or simply a review of the current state of the art.)

It is quite common to write papers that do nothing but review already existing methodology and to dissect their advantages and disadvantages.

I don't know if swinging from reference to reference like a scholarly Tarzan is an actual method in itself, though. It's just a way to find other studies. Maybe you could sell it as some kind of sleuthing or following the paper trail. I don't think that has any other name than "tracing arguments and methods back to their roots".

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