Writing responses to referee reports

Hyndsight

I’ve been spending time writing response letters lately. I’ve also been reading lots of response letters from authors wanting their stuff published in the International Journal of Forecasting. I thought it might be useful to collate a few thoughts on the subject.

  • No grovelling. I sometimes get response letters that start off with a paragraph of inane and obsequious fawning. The real response only begins after a paragraph of flattery which makes me wonder why I’ve never won the Nobel prize. Authors please note: it doesn’t work. I don’t decide whether to publish your paper on the basis of how many nice things you can say about me. In fact, the more ridiculous the statements, the more I suspect that there must be problems with your paper. Just begin with something like this: “Thank you for the opportunity to revise my paper. I have commented below on each of the points raised by the referees.”

  • Please respond to all of the major points made by the referees. Just saying “We have done what the referees asked” is insufficient. The editor wants to know what you have done. The simplest procedure is to cut and paste the referees comments into your response letter, with your comments interspersed. Use a different font to make it clear what is from the referee reports and what is your comment. That way the editor does not need to switch between the referee reports and your letter.

  • Give page and paragraph numbers for all the changes you have made. An editor will want to check precisely what you have changed, and this makes it faster to do so.

  • For minor corrections such as typos or grammatical issues, you can simply say “I have corrected all of the minor errors noted by the referees”. If the referee has numbered his/her comments, then give the numbers to make it clear which corrections you are referring to.

  • If you disagree with the referee, don’t feel obliged to do what is asked. But you do need to convince the editor that the referee is incorrect. Explain yourself carefully and respectfully, and any reasonable editor will weigh up your comments against those of the referee. Remember that the referees have been invited to comment because they are considered experts in the field. So you can’t just dismiss them as idiots. If appropriate, you might say “I am prepared to do as the referee requests, but I think it would be better to leave it as it is for the following reasons…”.

  • Resist the temptation to add more than is necessary to your letter to the editor. He or she is usually very busy. Writing long detailed additional explanations or submitting new supporting material is almost always unnecessary and unwelcome. When writing a response letter, do what you can to save the editor’s time.

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