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I contributed to a conference. I just received feedback from reviewers. I need to write a rebuttal. But I am limited to 800 words.

Three reviewers pointed out some writing problems. For example, the picture did not explain clearly. The layout is unreasonable. But they all give a weak accept.

A reviewer completely misunderstood the concept, and he directly gave me 1 point for all items. The other two reviewers asked a lot of questions and gave Accept and weak reject respectively. How should I organize my rebutal?

If I answer the questions one by one, it seems that it cannot be limited to 800 words at all. If I only answer part of it, would it seem disrespectful? And some reviewers asked the same question. How should I layout?

Can I directly point out that the reviewer misunderstood?

But there seems to be some misunderstandings here.

Does this seem disrespectful? The reviewer who misunderstood the concept mistakenly regarded the two advantages of the paper as major flaws.

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  • You probably need to clarify your question. Is this for a journal article? 'My master', means? Is this your supervisor or Master degree? You don't need to give a point-by-point response. E.g., 'We have addressed all writing errors' or 'We have revised the paper to improve its presentation'. Misunderstanding is normal, especially if your English is weak. Just note that the reviewers' comments relate to misunderstanding blah. Then simply point reviewers to the corrected/revised parts of the paper.
    – VitaminE
    Oct 3 '21 at 23:05
  • Thank you! I corrected it.
    – Yujie
    Oct 4 '21 at 1:17
  • Maybe have a look at this blog post - it was helpful for me to get an initial understanding. Only as a comment, as this is not mine, thus copying is out of the question, and just a link is no actual answer.
    – Sim
    Oct 4 '21 at 13:16
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Disclaimer: I have not read the linked blog post, that may contain better advises than mine.

I pretty much always structure my answers the same way:

  1. Thank the reviewers. Honestly. They spent time reading and assessing your paper, take the time to thank them for their comments.
  2. Rephrase. They generally show they understood your paper by re-phrasing its abstract, do the same. Briefly restate what the reviewers thought of your paper. It will help them gaining confidence in the fact that you actually read and understood their comments, which is important.
  3. Answer some questions. If they asked questions, answer some of them briefly. If they are vague, simply defer to point 5.
  4. Get the easy to fix out of the way. If there are discussion on presentation or typo, briefly comment on how you plan on addressing them. If you have a pre-print on-line, you can even update it to prove your good faith.
  5. Discuss the difficult points. Address the genuine concerns that your reviewers raised. If there are misunderstanding, apologize for not having written your paper in a clearer style, and clarify the difficult points precisely. Don't hesitate to "play the reviewers once against the other": if R1 claims that Theorem 1 is wrong but R2 defends it as ingenious, explain that maybe R1 missed the argument and could consult R2's comment to get a better perspective.
  6. Thank again. Explain that you value the feedback and that they will make your paper so much better, that you regret not answering all their questions (if you did not) but that they will help you make a better presentation / paper / future research.

I would start by writing down everything you want to say, and then edit it until you reached the word limit.

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There is a PLoS Computational Biology paper (Ten simple rules for writing a response to reviewers) by William Stafford Noble (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005730) that contains excellent ten easy to follow "rules" (note that they are not rules per se). I will list the points from the paper here (and a one sentence summary) but would recommend reading this short article for more insight.

As with most things, take your time to go through these and formulate your own thoughts about it. While these are general markers that can help along the way, this is not a rule book (don't get misled by the word "rule") and not everything works/applies in all situations.

  • Rule 1: Provide an overview, then quote the full set of reviews

Provide a summary of changes, along with new data, additional figures, etc, followed by interleaved comment+response.


  • Rule 2: Be polite and respectful of all reviewers

"Keep in mind that if the reviewer failed to understand something, the fault likely lies, at least in part, with you for not making the point clear enough." - enough said!


  • Rule 3: Accept the blame

"In general, even if the requested change seems unnecessary, it is usually better to go ahead and revise with the goal of showing the reviewer that they were listened to and understood."


  • Rule 4: Make the response self-contained

Try, for example, a tactic like original and revision comparison style


  • Rule 5: Respond to every point raised by the reviewer

"In some cases, the reviewer may disagree with your response, but you should not try to avoid a difficult point by simply ignoring it"


  • Rule 6: Use typography to help the reviewer navigate your response

I find it easy to color code the comments along with keeping the comment in a fixed width font while my responses are in regular Times New Roman black


  • Rule 7: Whenever possible, begin your response to each comment with a direct answer to the point being raised

"Your goal is to show the reviewer that you took their comments seriously, and you should quickly convey what you did in response to their critique."


  • Rule 8: When possible, do what the reviewer asks

"If the reviewer asks for 10 things, and you say that 9 out of 10 of them fall outside the scope of your work, then you are not likely to satisfy the reviewer."


  • Rule 9: Be clear about what changed relative to the previous version

" In your response, refer explicitly to the previous and revised versions of your manuscript and explain what changes have been made."


  • Rule 10: If necessary, write the response twice

"In practice, it is often helpful to write the "venting" version of the response first, wait a while, and then begin working on the "real" response several days later, perhaps after you have done some of the work to address the critiques raised by the reviewer."


Edit With respect to fitting it all in a given word limit, try and see if multiple reviewers have similar comments/concerns; then you could answer them together rather than individually replying to all. Additionally, in this case, summarizing all changes in the response document will clearly not work.

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OP also asked how to respond to a reviewer who clearly misunderstood something (while the other reviewers did not complain about it ); well I think the options are:

(1) Apologize and clarify: "I apologize for any confusion; I should have been more clear on the ... ".

(2) Straightly saying "There seems to be a misunderstanding about ...".

(3) Or a combination of (1) and (2): "I am sorry for the confusion, there seems to be a misunderstanding about ..".

Some may argue that apologizing here may mean admitting that something was indeed missing, which can be viewed as a weakness of the author. However, I would use (3).

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  • "Some may argue that apologizing here may mean admitting that something was indeed missing": well, clarity may have been missing…
    – Clément
    Oct 4 '21 at 17:46
  • @Clément For a rich paper; many authors run into the space limit, so they use their best judgment to omit some of what they think is obvious to the reviewers (even if that is not so obvious for the typical readers). So, clarifying everything may not always be possible.
    – Avaa Ali
    Oct 4 '21 at 17:55

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