The reviewer for the paper that I submitted for publication suggested major revision that I think cannot be pulled off/ done. What should I do? Should I just write the letter to editor saying I cannot pull off that revision since it's impossible. Or should I just submit my paper somewhere else.

This is my first paper submission.

  • Could you please specify the reasons why you think the revision is impossible? Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 6:40
  • 1
    The reviewer asked for sample addition while only giving me 2 months for resubmission. It's impossible for me to find new samples since the cases are very rare
    – alex
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 6:43
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    In this case you can consider asking the editor for extension, explaining your request for more time just as you did now. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 6:44

3 Answers 3


You have a number of options. Only you can decide which is the best in your case.

(1) You can withdraw the paper from the original journal and submit it elsewhere, in the hope that a different set of reviewers will be more enthusiastic or realistic.

(2) You can re-submit to the original journal and simply decline to do the reviewer's request. This is perfectly reasonable, and editors will simply use their judgement as to whether the paper is still acceptable even without this revision. If you do follow this route, be sure to make as many of the requested revisions as you possibly can, to show that you aren't simply being stubborn, and also explain professionally (clearly but politely) why you didn't do the other revision (it isn't practical) and why it isn't necessary (you already have strong statistical significance).

(3) You can request an extension from the editor. The 2-month revision time is almost always negotiable, if you have a reasonable argument. I recently requested an extension from 2 months to 6 because a co-author had had a baby, and the editor was perfectly happy with that. (I offered to include baby pictures, but even that was not necessary.)

My own preference would probably be, in order, (2), (1), and (3), but you will have to decide on your own.

Edit to add that, as @jakebeal says, you could just ask the editor if they feel the major revision is necessary. I would be a little hesitant about that, because I think (without evidence) that editors would be inclined to say that everything the reviewers asked is required, and then you're stuck with it, while if you just send in your revision as in (2), the editor might see it differently. In other words, it's often better to ask forgiveness rather than permission.


I would advocate @iayork 's option 2, but phrased differently. You need to deal with the reviewer's concerns - but you don't need to do it in exactly the way that they request.

This reviewer has apparently formed the impression that

  1. more samples are available to test, and
  2. your analysis/discussion is not robust, because it is currently based on too few observations.

If the reviewer thinks this, then other readers probably will too. These are the issues that you need to address in revising the manuscript.

You say that it is impossible to obtain more samples. This seems not to have been obvious to the reader, so it needs to be stated/explained more clearly in the manuscript. That addresses point (1).

Dealing with (2) is more difficult. You may have to think about the theoretical basis for whatever analysis you are performing, and consider how results might be biased by a small sample size. Are there other techniques that are more appropriate? Do you really have enough data to draw firm, statistically-significant conclusions? If the answer to this is 'no', be honest about it, and make the best of what you have. If the system you are studying is rare but sufficiently interesting, then it should be acceptable to say "our observations seem to suggest X, although this cannot be confirmed with current data".

Of course, it's always possible that the reviewer is just plain wrong - it does happen sometimes. If this is the case, consider what you can do to stop other people falling into the same mistake - perhaps you need to add a discussion of why your analysis is robust despite the small sample size, or show some additional figures.


Let me add one other thing, building on the answer from @iayork.

Many times, a request for revision will tell you which parts of the reviewers comments the editor feels is most important. Reviewers ask for lots of things, and often the handling editor feels some are important and some are not.

If the editor explicitly asked for the samples, then you're probably stuck with extension or withdrawal. If they did not, however, you may wish to write to the editor to query whether they believe the extra samples are necessary. Explain why you do not believe they are necessary (don't say they're too hard, that's only good for asking for an extension). If the editor agrees with you, then you can proceed to revise without the samples and have a good chance of acceptance; if not, then you will not waste your time on an inadequate revision and can ask for extension or withdrawal.

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