A bit of background, I am doing research in atmospheric physics and detection systems

Recently, I received a paper submission back with revisions suggested by a couple of reviewers. For the most part, the revisions were definitely constructive, justified and most importantly, helpful.

That is, except on one particular crucial aspect of the paper where both reviewers made suggestions, that they labelled as critical for the paper's success. However, the suggestions were directly opposite. i.e. Both suggestions are mutually exclusive, but equally feasible.

What is an effective means to address this conflict?

I have spoken to my academic supervisor and he is not sure how to proceed either and we have double checked and both suggested paths are feasible.

  • 16
    Isn't this a big win? Your one paper has just become two ... or possibly even three: one for each of the two suggestions, and one comparing those two approaches and the one you'd proposed.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 10:04
  • @EnergyNumbers (+1) that is potentially true, we are under time constraints (especially with the use of equipment). Time constraints also with other commitments (aren't we all?)
    – user7130
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 10:08
  • 4
    Not enough for an answer, but just because they are mutually exclusive doesn't mean Reviewer 1 knows/thought about Reviewer 2's idea and vice versa. It could be that one is better than the other and they will both see that, it could also be that both are equally good and choosing either one will satisfy both.
    – tpg2114
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 13:30
  • @tpg2114 this is very true - it is a case of trying to figure which is better and more relevant.
    – user7130
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 4:56

4 Answers 4


In my capacity as editor for a journal, I see this quite frequently. I think it is a pity that you are left on your own to try to resolve the problem. An editor should provide some indication of possible solutions in tricky situations like this. So my first advice is to contact the editor and briefly explain the dilemma and ask for some advise on how to proceed. If you can, you should also provide your opinion on what you think is reasonable. After all, you have made your study and knows its strengths and weaknesses better than most.

In some cases, I have experienced how authors have used conflicting reviews to swing their paper in one or the other direction. This is certainly also possible since the reviews, and this is important, constitute peer's views and opinions, not an absolute and definitive truth to be followed.

Lacking the necessary insight into the details of your work and the issue at hand, I would also add the following. If you think you can bring up the conflicting views in the discussion, you may perhaps add both to your paper and simply arrive at a conclusion that the jury might still be out concerning the burning issue. I realize this may not be applicable in your case, but could be one way to acknowledge the existence of several, seemingly valid views.


Often, but not always, reviewers try and be helpful. For example, a reviews that simply says that "crucial aspect of the paper is broken/wrong/needs to be reworked", tends not to be as helpful as "crucial aspect of the paper is broken and would be improved by doing X". Of course when you get a second review saying to do Y and X and Y are incompatible, then you have an issue. I would think about X and Y (and possibly Z) and decide which you want to do. Then respond to the reviewers and acknowledge that you improved crucial aspect with method X (or Y or Z) for the reasons you decided to use it. Hopefully, the reviewer will be happy that you improved crucial aspect and not upset that you didn't use method Y. If after the second round of reviews you still have conflicts, explain the problem to the editor and ask for advice.

  • So very true - both reviewers were fantastic -thorough, insightful and extremely helpful. This is excellent advice.
    – user7130
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 10:52
  • Yes — the important thing is to address the reviewers’ criticisms/concerns; but how you address them is your own decision.
    – PLL
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 17:02

Reviewers' suggestions are just that: suggestions. So, read both of them, make your own idea on how useful each of the suggestions would be, then depending on available resources, you may choose to follow one, the other, both, or none.

  • If you can do both, then of course do it, compare the results, and that will vastly improve your paper!

  • If you cannot do both, then decide in advance on which seems more likely to you, and follow this course (X). Then, add mention of the other method (Y) in the revised paper, saying something along the lines of “it would also be interesting to see how doing Y improves the results of Z, though we do not expect it to be as efficient as X because of …”. And explain in your letter to the editor that you have followed the avenue which seemed best to you, out of the two suggested by the referees. If your case is convincing (yet concise), you should not have a problem with the editor: you're the expert, after all!

  • If you think both have value, but (i) you don't have the resources to do it, and (ii) though the suggestions are valid, your current results already bring something new and significant to the field, you may decide not to follow the suggestions. Include them, with some background for each, in the revised manuscript and explain that it may be useful for future work to consider those. In the response to the editor, make your case that though it is interesting, it would be out of the scope of the current study, and your work meets publication standards as it is.


What I would probably do is:

In the appropriate section, acknowledge that two routes had been suggested, and then explain why you chose to take the route you did.

edit: sorry, didn't fully read through the answer above mine before posting (which says much the same thing).

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