I wrote a paper that invalids a previous result. The referee heavily attacks "minor points" such as typos, misuse of jargons, overall "hard to read", and some story-telling or speculation could be off. The referee avoids direct commenting on the main result.

My question is, in an academic debate, how to deal with people rejecting or attacking a paper not for its major contribution but for "minor" things?

Or, should I convince myself that those "minor things" are not actually minor?

  • 7
    "Hard to read" can be a major point, especially if it prevents understanding of the main result. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 10:51
  • 9
    How to deal with that: by improving the presentation of your paper. These are only minor things to you, because you already understand your results. To somebody trying to validate your claims not being able to properly follow the paper is a major problem.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 10:54
  • 4
    As a reviewer, I had some papers that were ok content-wise, but so badly structured and written that I hard time understanding what the authors were trying to say. So no, this is not a minor issue.
    – Sursula
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 11:03
  • What was the referee's overall accept/reject recommendation (including major/minor revisions, etc)? Likewise, what was the editor's accept/reject decision? Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 16:14
  • @NateEldredge Rejection and rejection
    – dodo
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 6:31

2 Answers 2


It is unclear from your question what the context is for a referee to be offering comments on your paper. You refer to it as an "academic debate" but refereeing of a paper for peer review is not a debate --- it is a process where referees seek to identify problems in a paper that ought to be fixed before publication occurs. If this is the context then I would recommend that you be thankful that you have referees who are doing a through job of reviewing your papers and pointing out shortcomings.

In cases where a paper is hard to read or understand, the reviewers will sometimes want this aspect of the paper fixed before proceeding to a substantive review of the ideas in the paper. That can occur when there are problems with the writing that obscure the main idea in the paper or distract from the main idea to such an extent that the referee does not wish to review that aspect of the paper at the present time. From your description it sounds like these issues are a barrier to publication and are possibly even a barrier to substantive review of your main argument, so I would not consider them to be minor issues (based on your description). Even if you were to conclude that the points raised are "minor", where does your evaluative labelling of the referee comments get you?

  • I refer it as "academic debate" because the referee is clearly supporting the old result which I try to invalids. They also write to state that the old result is flawless. Not sure if my wording is accurate.
    – dodo
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 12:24
  • 7
    @dodo It's generally a reasonable position that the generally accepted/"old" result has precedence. If you want to argue for something new, it's up to you to make the most clear, flawless case. It doesn't sound like you've done anything approaching that, and until you do, you should consider your presentation highly flawed rather than considering anyone else in debate with you. You haven't done the full required work yet.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 14:29

Right now - fix those issues.

You can disagree with reviewers and offer counter-arguments at any time during the review process. There can be an irreconcilable difference of opinion, usually concerning stylistic choices; ultimately, it would be up to the editor and authors to resolve. But outright disagreeing from the very beginning is almost never a good idea.

You see, reviewers are not your enemies nor the obstacles standing between you and another line in your CV. They are fellow researchers who spend their unpaid time trying to help you improve the article and offering the perspective you do not have. They are among what is statistically likely to be very few people who will ever read this work, and they are generally more representative of the potential reader than you, the authors. If you fail to convince them, what makes you believe this paper of yours would be good at convincing anyone at all? And also, if the reviewer agreed with your main idea, would you be any more inclined to address these "minor" issues?

Try your best to understand the criticism and improve the manuscript. If you believe there is a conflict of interest or genuine stubbornness, claims along the lines of "the old result is flawless, the paper is wrong" are generally dismissible if the reviewer can not be bothered to elaborate on their stance. Of course, you should respond in a civil way, explaining that you have provided arguments A, B, and C, neither of which was challenged in any way.

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