The Final Hurdle: Persuasive Responses to Peer Review


The revision process can represent a golden opportunity to enhance your work based upon input from the reviewers. With this in mind, you can respond in a way that maximizes your chances of having your paper accepted upon resubmission.

Peer review can be one of the most challenging aspects of publishing your work, and many people find the process frustrating. Like many researchers and academics, you may find that after working hard to gather your data and findings in a manuscript and sending it to your chosen journal, the journal’s response is “maybe,” rather than the straightforward acceptance you had hoped for.

The vast majority of manuscripts are not accepted without revision, and the process of revising a manuscript in light of the comments from the reviewers can greatly improve its quality. In this sense, the revision process can represent a golden opportunity to enhance your work based upon input from the reviewers. With this in mind, you can respond in a way that maximizes your chances of having your paper accepted upon resubmission.

Responding appropriately to reviewers’ comments and criticisms

Responses to reviewers’ comments can take different forms. Perhaps acceptance of your paper will require that you do additional work to strengthen your study and support your arguments. Perhaps changes to the manuscript are necessary to provide a clearer description of your work and convey your ideas more effectively. Alternatively, perhaps the reviewers’ concerns can be addressed through discussion via your response letter. Careful consideration of the reviewers’ comments is therefore necessary to determine the type of response that is appropriate.

Don’t miss our companion article, “Responding to Reviewers: You Can’t Always Say What You’d Like

Writing your response letter

Whether or not additional work is required to address the reviewers’ concerns, a key element in achieving publication is the letter you send to the journal editor detailing your response to the peer review. Typically, this response letter opens with a short letter to the editor, which begins in a similar way to the cover letter that you included with your original submission (for more on writing a cover letter, see this article)  but goes on to summarize your response to the peer review. It is an opportunity for you to briefly list what you have done to improve your manuscript and answer the reviewers’ criticisms, and it provides the editor with an important first impression of your response. Following this summary, the letter might close with an invitation to discuss your manuscript further if the editor wishes.

The opening letter to the editor should be followed by your detailed, point-by-point responses to the reviewer’s questions and criticisms. In writing these responses, remember that your goal is to convince the editor and reviewers that your manuscript should be published by the journal, and your responses should therefore convey a number of impressions. It is very important that your responses convince the editor that all of the reviewers’ concerns have been appropriately considered and addressed, whether through further work, changes to the manuscript, or polite and robust rebuttal.

The editor acts as the gatekeeper in the review process, but it is important to remember that he or she is on your side. Editors want to publish high-quality, high-impact papers, and they are using the peer-review process to determine whether your work meets their quality standards and is aligned with the interests of the journal’s readership. The editor will likely read both your letter to them and your specific responses to the reviewers to determine whether you have met the required quality standards in your work. As such, by striking the right tone in your responses to the reviewers, you can cast your work in a positive light and make a positive impression on the editor.

Making a positive impression

How do you strike the right tone when responding to reviewers? First, remember to thank the reviewers, regardless of the nature of their comments. Give them the impression, true or otherwise, that all of their comments were welcomed. Thank them for their positive comments and repeat these positive points before moving on to your responses to their concerns. Remember, the editor will be reading your responses, and this gives you an opportunity to highlight the reviewers’ positive impressions of your work.

Structuring your responses to the reviewers

It is a good idea to begin each response by quoting the reviewer’s comment before providing your answer. Then, you can describe the corresponding changes you have made to the text, give details of any additional work performed to address their concerns, or provide a polite rebuttal. While the first two types of response are relatively simple, making a robust but polite rebuttal is often more challenging.

Perhaps the reviewer’s criticism is the result of their failure to understand a particular aspect of your work or a statement made in your manuscript. In this case, the best strategy is to apologize for the confusion and provide clarification. This situation might highlight an area of your manuscript that needs further work to better convey the details of your study or its findings, and as such, you should view it as a chance to improve the quality of your manuscript. The ability to point to a change made to the manuscript can help give a positive impression not only to the reviewer but also to the editor.

In other cases, you may simply disagree with the reviewer’s point of view on an issue related to your work, and in this situation, a counter-argument that is well supported by your results or by the published work of others can support the validity of your work and your findings. This can have a major impact on how the paper is perceived by the editor, which in turn can affect his or her decision to either publish or reject your manuscript. It allows the editor to gauge whether your work is robust, i.e., will it be able to stand up to scrutiny in the field, which can ultimately affect the reputation of the journal. Some specific examples for phrasing your responses to reviewers in a polite and effective way can be found in the article “Responding to Reviewers: You Can’t Always Say What You’d Like” and in our downloadable resource on this topic.

Using simple stand-alone responses

As a final point, it is a good idea to include specific details of any changes made to the manuscript, quoting any changed sentences or passages, rather than simply giving page and line numbers, etc., to locate the changes. This provides the reviewers and editor with an easily understood, stand-alone set of responses, and they will not have to hunt through your revised manuscript to track down your changes. Similarly, be sure to define any abbreviations that you choose to use in your responses. This is especially important when writing about highly technical work.

Maximizing your chances of publication

In summary, peer review can be a lengthy and uncertain process, and receiving a list of criticisms of your work can be a negative experience; however, by viewing it as an opportunity and taking a positive approach to writing persuasive responses to the reviewers, you can impact the editor’s perception of your work and greatly increase the likelihood that your manuscript will be accepted for publication.

A post by Chris Showell, Quality Control Editor at Research Square,  AJE (American Journal Experts).

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The Cost of Knowledge

Academics have protested against Elsevier’s business practices for years with little effect. These are some of their objections:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.
  2. In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large “bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

The key to all these issues is the right of authors to achieve easily-accessible distribution of their work. If you would like to declare publicly that you will not support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate, then you can do so by filling in your details on this page.

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World University Rankings 2015-2016

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016 list the best global universities and are the only international university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

The top universities rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments. This year’s ranking includes 800 universities from 70 different countries, compared with the 400 universities from 41 countries in last year’s table. View the World University Rankings methodology here.

This year’s list of the best universities in the world features 147 of the top universities in the US – with 63 American universities making the top 200 of the list, including the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as the world’s number one university, followed by Stanford University in third place, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in fifth and Harvard University in sixth. But the US has been losing its dominance of the tables, as institutions in Europe improve their performance, including those in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The UK is the second best represented country in the rankings, with 78 universities in the top 800, and 34 in the top 200. The UK’s Oxford University is ranked second in the world, with Cambridge University in fourth. This year’s ranking also marks the first time a university outside the US and the UK has made the top 10 for a decade. Discover more World University Rankings highlights here. Asia has seen a varied performance, with good news for Singapore, which now claims the top institution in the continent with National University of Singapore (NUS) in 26th place. China has two top fifty universities (Peking University and Tsinghua University) while Japan and South Korea have suffered declining performance.

Our list of the best global universities rankings include many performance indicators directly relevant to students and their families, to help them chose where to study, including faculty-student ratios, the university’s global reputation, its total resources, the international mix on campus, and its links to business. But a reason why the rankings are so widely respected is that they cover the full range of a university’s missions, including research excellence.

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Maryam Mirzakhani: ‘The more I spent time on maths, the more excited I got’


Maryam Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. Mirzakhani, 37, is of Iranian descent and completed her PhD at Harvard in 2004. Her thesis showed how to compute the Weil-Petersson volumes of moduli spaces of bordered Riemann surfaces. Her research interests include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry. She is currently professor of mathematics at Stanford University, and predominantly works on geometric structures on surfaces and their deformations.

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Pushing Through Life’s Hardest Moments

Editorial by ISM Staff

They say life isn’t always a bed of roses. Well, I can certainly vouch for that. In fact, sometimes it can be downright brutal. But, just because life doesn’t always flow smoothly doesn’t mean our careers can be put on hold—especially when what we do involves the lives of children. Sometimes we need to reach down into our depths, find what strength is left in our reservoir, and push on.

As a writer, I have the advantage of heading to my keyboard and purging my thoughts, fears, and tears onto a blank document. It’s my way of clearing my head for the day ahead. Sometimes I share these written realizations, but more often than not I just save them to my electronic journal. It’s my creative release. However, not of all of us are writers. Releasing tension, fear, pain, anxiety, (insert your own noun here), in order to get through your day is something you need to find that works best for you.

I’ve done some research to see how others deal with life’s hard moments. Prayer, meditation, exercise, and busy work seem to be the Internet’s secrets to overcoming hardships. But again, these won’t work for everyone. I don’t doubt that some of you reading this have no desire to head to the gym when you’re feeling blue, and I know personally that when my head’s spinning, meditation is one of the hardest exercises to endure. So, I’ve dug a little further into the search results and come up with a few tips that will hopefully offer some possibilities for all personality types.

Confide in someone. Opening up about your troubles doesn’t come easy to everyone. Again, for me personally, I would rather torment my keyboard and hard drive than burden a friend or a co-worker. But, there is great relief in getting what’s weighing you down off your shoulders. Talking does help. It’s not about looking to others for answers or empathy. Sometimes just speaking your troubles out loud, hearing your own voice define them, helps you release some of the grief. And, if the person you choose to talk to about your life moment does have a positive perspective, then you’ve gained not only release but also a new way of looking at your troubles.

Plan time to “mourn.” You probably think that wallowing in your pain is the opposite of how you should push through any situation. Actually, it might be just what you need. Make a date with yourself to feel what it is you’re bottling up. Pick a time, say 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., when you’ll do nothing else but face and sort through (or come to terms with) what it is that’s bothering you. Make a deal with yourself to not let it affect you until then—that you’re going to face it from 5 to 6, but until then you’re not going to allow it to consume your thoughts.

Ask yourself “And so?” I learned this trick a few years ago when I was trying to overcome my phobia of fire. I don’t know where this fear came from or why it suddenly started haunting my commutes, but one day as I was driving home, all I could think about was what if my house was on fire as I turned down the street. It became such a real fear that I actually started checking news reports before leaving the office and altered my route so I could see what was happening in the neighborhood before I made it to my street. Crazy, right? I had to break the cycle! It was interfering with my life and I knew it had to stop before it paralyzed me. So, I started asking myself “and so” as I was driving. What would be the worst thing if I did come home and found fire trucks and chaos? I would lose my material things sure, but again, “and, so?” I can replace those things. “And, so?” My insurance would help me rebuild. “And, so?” Life would go on. See how that works? You keep going through the possibilities until you realize that there is a bright side, or at least another side that’s bearable. It’s helpful to remind yourself that no matter what you’re facing—death, divorce, financial hardship, illness—there is always something better waiting on the other side of the pain.

Just look at the facts. It’s so easy for us as emotional beings to jump to conclusions. We take a stern e-mail from our boss and play it out that we’re treading on thin ice, or process a comment that was intended to be innocent as something dreadful. Step back from the situation and just absorb the facts. Don’t allow outside issues to pollute what’s happening in the office. Things might be difficult outside the office, but that doesn’t mean that everything is crumbling.

Do something kind for someone. This is one of my favorite tactics for overcoming hardships. It’s all too easy to spread misery when you’re hurting. Break the cycle! No matter what you’re facing in your personal life, by doing something kind for someone else, you’ll actually feel better yourself. It doesn’t have to be a large act of generosity—sometimes the smallest tokens of kindness mean the most.

Laugh. It’s not always easy to find humor through pain—but, trust me, it’s there. Watch a sitcom, find a funny YouTube video, take a few minutes and read the funnies, search for funny images, remember something that always makes you smile … you see where I’m going with this. Even if the joy you feel from this is brief, it can be enough to push you through your day productively.

Honor your feelings. If I haven’t already made this clear, the best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your career during life’s hardest challenges is honor yourself and what you’re feeling. Don’t bottle your feelings up and try to ignore what you’re feeling, but don’t allow these moments to take over your world, either. Acknowledge what you’re going through, know that others have been where you are, and have the courage that you’ll get through this moment just as you’ve gotten through other tricky moments. It’s not always easy to face your own vulnerability, but in the end, you’ll be a stronger person for appreciating and respecting your struggles.


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Farewell Peter Hall (1951-2016)

Peter Hall passed away on Saturday, 9 January 2016, after a long battle with illness over the last couple of years. No statistician will need reminding of Peter’s extensive contributions to the field. He had over 500 published papers, and had won every major award available, many of them listed on his Wikipedia page.

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