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I've spoken with many friends, and they all agree that response letters to reviewers should be written in the most kind, cordial and humble possible way.

Even if the reviewers are in an error, one should make no major strides to show it to them.

I wonder, How do you write your response letters to the reviewers?

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    Hi Leon! I think that this question is overly broad… it pretty much depends on what the reviewers said or asked, and what you want to write. – F'x Oct 23 '12 at 22:30
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    Even if the reviewers are in an error, one should make no major strides to show it to them. — What!? Of course you should correct them! – JeffE Oct 23 '12 at 23:06
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    @JeffE: Of course you should correct it, but you should also try to correct them "gently." Don't say "as it clearly states," but say "On p. X, we indicate. . . ." Unless the reviewer is being completely obnoxious, rude, or dismissive, starting a reviewing "flame war" isn't very useful. – aeismail Oct 24 '12 at 6:23
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If the reviewers are in error, yes you should show it to them, but you should often also take the opportunity to revise your paper, so that your readers don't fall into the same error. For example, suppose reviewers say that you could use such and such an approach to get a better result. If they are right, then you should either do it, or explain why you're not doing it.

But if the reviewers are wrong, then maybe you should address this idea in your introduction. In one paper I wrote, we included in our introduction a false one paragraph proof of the thing we took 10 pages to prove. Afterwards we pointed out the error.

For one paper we submitted, we got conflicting referee reports. Essentially, the referees both wanted us to revise the paper, but in different directions (to oversimplify: one reviewer said "shorten and simplify" and the other said "lengthen and elaborate"). We agreed with one report, and disagreed with the other. So in our response, we pointed out that we couldn't do both . We explained why we preferred the choice we were making, and our paper was accepted.

You don't have to do everything the reviewers suggest. But if you don't, your response letter should explain why you have chosen to do otherwise.

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    You're lucky if reviewers give conflicting instructions: that means you can very easily motivate to discard one of them. – gerrit Oct 24 '12 at 8:01
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As DanC states, you don't have to do everything a referee suggests, especially when they are asking for the wrong thing. A response along the lines of the following usually does the trick for me.

We do not believe the referee's suggested approach is appropriate in this context [Explain reason why]. However, we accept that Section x.x.x could easily mislead a careful reader into thinking this approach was required, and have clarified the text as follows:

This addresses the issue, explains why you disagree with the referee, but throws the referee a bone by saying how helpful they have been. I make a point of thanking the referee as often as possible in a response. After all, they are taking time to make your paper better with no reward.

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From my experience, successful letters to the reviewer have been very objective--guiding the reader to a specific line number in your original manuscript and/or reviewed manuscript.

Often times the reviewer will say something like "the author failed to show that x is correlated with y," to which I usually write: "the authors wish to thank the reviewer for raising this issue. We have added a new sentence to clarify how x and y correlate (please refer to line 100 of the reviewed manuscript)."

Sometimes, the reviewer simply does not understand a passage of your manuscript. For example "the authors did not explain why the sky is blue," to which I commonly reply "the authors wish to thank the reviewer for raising this issue. We wish to bring the attention to line 200 of the manuscript where we say that 'the sky is blue because of xyz, as supported by Figure 1.' "

Sometimes the reviewer is just mean. Once, a reviewer wrote the following to me: "the author is encouraged to understand the basics of physics," to which I simply replied: "5 new references have been added on line 300 to support our claim that heavier bodies accelerate slower when acting upon an unchanged force, a direct result from [Newton, 1687]."

You can't be rude, but you must be succinct and show exactly where in the manuscript you address the issue raised by the reviewer.

You can then take 3 actions: 1. add a sentence to clarify the issue, 2. point to the reviewer that you have in fact explained the issue in the manuscript, or 3. add references that support your claim and weaken the reviewer's concern.

Some times, if your response letter is objective and clearly addresses all the reviewer's concerns, the Editor will accept your manuscript upon reading your letter and not send back to the reviewer for another round of reviews (this has happened to me at least 2 times before).

  • I'd recommend just "Thanks." instead of "The authors wish to thank the reviewer for raising this issue." The latter starts to look very formulaic (and, therefore, insincere) if you write it more than once. And why would you "wish to thank" somebody instead of just thanking them? Also, adding five references to support an obviously true claim is a ridiculous way to respond to a referee. Every single person who reads that paper will be wondering, "Why is this person giving me five citations for F=ma? Are they an idiot or do they think I am?" – David Richerby Jun 21 '17 at 23:46

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