You have just received the reviews for your article. After a long wait, this is the most painful step. The main issue is that reviewers and authors don’t speak the same language. To speed up and ease this process, authors should address the comments so that reviewers can easily assess how their feedback has been tackled. What is then the most effective way of writing your rebuttal?
The truth about reviewers
Before we look into the details (if you are in a hurry, you can skip to the template I suggest at the end), you need to know the following about reviewers:
- they are experts,
- they don’t have a lot of time,
- they are not attacking you,
- they want to be acknowledged for their help.
As a regular reviewer, I get to see various ways authors address the comments they receive. Also very interesting, I see various ways reviewers give their comments. In my reviews, I tend to be very structured and provide my comments with labels so that I can track afterwards if they have been properly resolved. Other reviewers write several paragraphs though, each one containing more than one issue.
The main idea of the methodology that we suggest below is to respect the time of the reviewers and to highlight what has been done to address their comments. Moreover, it has the advantage of being very effective for me as a supervisor when giving feedback to my PhD students on their rebuttal.
Step 1: Separate the reviews into a list of issues
Whether you receive your paper’s review in paragraphs or already as a list of comments, start by separating the feedback of each reviewer into individual issues. To make referencing easier, label each one of these issues, e.g. 2.4 for the fourth point of reviewer #2. Copy the exact words of the reviewers: only separate the text if necessary, never change it.
Select a format that you will keep everywhere as an easy clue to highlight what are the reviewers’ comments, what are your answers and what are the pieces of your paper’s text, e.g. coloured text, bold or italicised.
Step 2: For each issue find an answer
Now that you have separated the issues, address them individually. Here it is important to be very humble. If you believe the reviewer suggests adding something you already wrote in the manuscript or if you think that the comment is not appropriate, indicate that there might be a misunderstanding and offer to solve it by rephrasing part of the text. If the reviewer asks to perform additional work that you think will not provide added value (you have to be truthful and don’t discard it just because it might take time), again offer to rephrase part of the text, for example the objectives to be more precise and avoid creating non-met expectations.
In any case, don’t thank the reviewer for each issue, thank them just in the beginning. The most important in this part is to acknowledge the contribution of the reviewers.
Step 3: For each answer adjust your manuscript
I believe this is the most important. The job of the reviewers is to support your work and to try to improve it. In no way it is to attack you. With that idea in mind, and as a rule of thumb, all the comments of the reviewers should lead to improvements in the manuscript (yes, I really mean all). Of course, try to be honest and don’t claim you changed something if it is unrelated. Therefore, at this point, highlight the changes you have made to the manuscript by either copy-pasting the text (remember, with a specific format) or indicating precisely where you implemented the change in the revised manuscript (page and line number).
It is very important for the reviewers to be able to immediately assess whether their comment has been properly addressed. Again, respect their time and they will be thankful for it.
Template for rebuttal
Here is a template that you can use for your rebuttals. Let us know if you think about any improvements. We would be glad to further improve it:
Download template (zip of a file)