Monday, June 20, 2011

Reviewers' comments

The past 5 days, I've been completely immersed into replying reviewers' comments to a paper which will be published as a special publication after a conference in October.

Previously, I did receive some comments from reviewers for other conference papers, but the effort they required to reply was typically negligible.

Wednesday evening, however, I received 3 pages of commentary on my paper, 19 sections with comments in total. I was both terrified (it looked like a lot of work) and enthusiastic (the reviewers really analyzed my paper and provided valuable input) at the same time.

I was googling around a bit for some advice on how to reply to reviewers' comments, since I had never done this before, but I couldn't find anything. Please point me to interesting posts online if you come across them, I'll be more than glad to read them and implement their advice in the future. And I'm sure I'll have to reply reviewers' comments many more time in the years to come.

Now that I've sent out the revised version and my 13-page reply to the reviewers, I've spent some time reflecting on this process, and here are some points which were to me the most striking ones.

1. Don't panic

I felt a slight sense of panic when I received the email with all the comments. It appeared to be a lot of work to me, and it was requested to be done as soon as possible. However, I took a deep breath, and decided to print out the comments, and finish the task I was carrying out before jumping to the comments.

2. One remark at a time

Rome wasn't build in a day. I've taken several slots of time over 4 days in total to reply the comments one by one. When necessary, I went to look up some additional references to give a solid basis to the reply I was working on.

I wasn't sure about my writing style though. I'm not sure in which voice to write, and how much information to include in the replies. Hopefully I can learn this in the (near) future.

3. Take it serious

The reviewers has obviously taken time and effort to work through my paper and point out paragraphs which were not clear, graphs which looked confusing and to offer some fresh ideas on my research.

It is at least polite to take it serious, and spend enough time to chew on this to provide them with a solid and founded answer to their comments, and, where needed, add the requested revisions to the paper.

4. Remember you are not alone

Even though I took quite some time to reflect on certain questions, I did feel that for some of these I needed some affirmation and good ideas from my co-authors.
After I drafted up the first version of the revised paper and the reply to the reviewers, I sent it to my co-authors with some extra comments and points for them to look at.

Today, I got all the necessary input and thoughts to finish up the revised version of the paper. I'm quite curious to see what will be next.

To conclude this post, I would like to point to Hidde Ploegh's post "End the wasteful tyranny of reviewer experiments" and Eva Teuling's discussion (in Dutch) "Peer review versus de idealistische wetenschapper." There's a lot of food for thought related to the review process in there, and the merely ethical discussion on the impact of recommending additional experiments. Highly recommended, now that we're at the topic.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Eva,
    Great post - it's always a bit confronting when you get a pile of reviewer comments back.

    I find it useful to use a table in MSWord to keep track of all of the comments and my responses. I list each individual comment from each reviewer and then tabulate any modifications that I have made to the paper in response. I also save a copy of the paper with "track changes" and also save a clean copy with all changes included.

    Congrats on your publication!
    Melissa

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  2. That's a very neat solution! I might work that way next time, if I'll face more overlap between the remarks.

    Thank you!

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  3. Great post and thanks for the links (I wish I spoke Dutch!)

    It sounds like you've got some constructive comments back which is nice, there are too many horror stories of unreasonable reviewers blowing papers out of the water for no good reason.

    Many people say the peer review process should not be anonymous and I'm inclined to agree, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts though.

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  4. I was definitely "lucky" for getting very constructive and helpful comments. It was also interesting to see how one reviewer mainly focused on the broader lines and application to practice, while the other one really went over my calculations and showed which parts were not clear.

    As a very curious person, I would be interested in knowing the identity of the reviewers, to compare the focus of their comments to their background.

    But I don't think it is an easy discussion, and I can think arguments both for and against the anonymity of the reviewers.

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