The reviewers send me comments through the editor. While writing a reply, do I have to cite sources to back my points up?

If so, how to cite them? Do I need to cite them formally, with a dedicated "References" section, just like a full paper, or it is appreciated to just do it in a relax, informal way, of bringing up authors, year, journal, titles in a casual way in the text body?

3 Answers 3


If you need the source then you should cite it. Citing in the text is usually good enough, however, because you probably don't have that many references. Example:

The reviewer asks why we use X. This is because X was demonstrated to be the most efficient option in High GPA et al, Famous Journal, 2022.

That's usually good enough to uniquely identify the paper, and it doesn't interrupt reading flow.

  • 1
    This is exactly what I prefer! Though my advisor told me to have a formal list of references, just like a formal paper: I felt a bit uncomfortable doing that.
    – High GPA
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 12:13
  • 7
    Sometimes what you think might be an unambiguous reference might not be so unambiguous after all - there is probably more than one Yu et al, Famous Journal, 2022. Also you want to make the reviewers' life as easy as possible. Solution: also state the DOI, or create a clickable DOI link. Still informal but makes it easy for the reviewer to have a quick peek at the cited paper if they want to.
    – frederik
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 16:03
  • 2
    I agree with @frederik, if you want short and unambiguous referencing just use the DOI.
    – The Doctor
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 8:36

You aren't writing for publication so you don't need to be formal, but you might need to point the reviewer to specific things to make your points.

For some things, nothing would be needed, but for others, it makes sense to support your arguments from the published literature. But formal, formatted, citation is only really needed for publication, as long as you say enough so that the material can be found.


Since making the Reviewer's lives easier is rarely a bad idea, I usually do include full citations in the Reply Letter. If it's one or two one-off things, I put it at the bottom of my response to that reviewer. If there are a lot more, I make a reference section at the very end.

Most of the cited works usually also appear in the main article, so it's rarely much work, especially if you're using a citation manager. On the other hand, it can be very annoying to track down an article using only a common surname and approximate year.

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