Daniel Lemire's blog

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How to revise research papers after receiving harsh reviews

14 thoughts on “How to revise research papers after receiving harsh reviews”

  1. Tushar says:

    I totally needed it. I was at the verge of leaving out research after receiving over 4 rejection back to back in last year.

    Exposing research might help big time.

  2. Pardis says:

    “I occasionally get depressed after receiving harsh criticism, especially if I thought I had produced great work and feel unappreciated.”

    I wouldn’t have even thought that well-established professors could still feel this way after many great publications, and that one just has to find a way to deal with such setbacks. It’s a great lesson for someone like me trying to make it in academia.

    This habit can also be extended to deal with many other kinds of setbacks in life:

    “Part of it is just habit: my brain has learned that harsh criticism does not necessarily signify upcoming pain.”

    Thank you.

  3. T. Nguyen says:

    Thanks Daniel. Just got my first paper rejection 2 days ago. It was close, but didn’t make it.

    We had 4 reviewers who expressed strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Some of the problems they expressed were valid. Others, well I didn’t agree.

    Now that I need to make the appropriate changes, and submit it to a more selective publisher.

  4. Zeno says:

    Daniel, this is an awesome and inspiring blog post. Thank you.

  5. @Zeno Thanks!

  6. Debadeepta Dey says:

    I was just about to start rewriting a paper which got rejected due to bad presentation and was feeling depressed and looking for ways to avoid doing that. This article seemed written for me especially.

  7. Luis says:

    I would add do not reply to criticism on the same day you received it. Every time I receive negative comments from referees I think #$@% and &^#, but mostly @&%., which is to say I have a very negative attitude towards “those morons”. However, when I wait until next day to deal with the comments I have a much better view of what “those morons” say and, sometimes, “those morons” are right.

    The following day I can see that my explanation was not very clear, my notation was flawed, that figure could have been presented in a much better way. When I wait I can also see opportunities to provide much better refutations when the reviewers are plain wrong.

  8. BartG says:

    I’ve been avoiding applying changes to a paper. It’s time to finish it up.

    Thanks for the great advice!
    Very timely post.

  9. Massiel Orellana says:

    Thank you for this! very helpful and timely…I also wanted to add that this not only happens in academia…I work as a scientist for a big company and there constantly your work is being reviewed for your peers (that may have the same level of knowledge that you have or not). You have to learn to take criticism as part of the process and try to communicate better your ideas without taking it personal.

  10. Steve says:

    I also take this approach. I first make a listing of all the issues mentioned by the reviewers and what I might do to address them. I do this fairly soon after getting the reviews back. I list every issue even those I don’t think I can resolve. After that I usually sleep on it.

    Then, I start on addressing the problems. If the reviewer missed an important point or misinterpreted something, I try to make the point so obvious that another reviewer could not make the same mistake without looking incompetent. In some cases, that means putting it early in the paper, like in the 2nd or 3rd paragraph of the intro. In other cases, I may just reword the point so it is more clear, depending on how important the point is.

    It is always a bad idea to just think it was a bad reviewer and not make any changes. If you submit to another venue, you could get the same reviewer again (actually not that unlikely) so it is always good to at least change the wording or mention what the reviewer commented (“we didn’t use approach Z because …”) on so it looks like you tried to resolve the issue.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is also important to remember that reviewers will often see your responses, so it is always good to be polite. A reviewer will be better predisposed to approve your paper even with lingering issues, if he or she feels that the criticisms were carefully considered and materially improved the paper.

  12. Itman says:

    Great advice. My five cents: I believe that to survive in Academia one has to have a death grip. In a good way, of course, you should not grip what is dead and stinks already. Reviewers are right most of the time (in this sense or another). Yet, there are some nasty exceptions. And they leave caustic comments.

  13. Anonymous says:

    My paper has been returned to me for revision; however, one of the reviewers was not satisfied by using just one laboratory method. The other reviewer is very interested in the manuscript and made several comments for improving it. I have answered to all of his comments properly. But, I do not know what should I do about the first reviewer as I can’t apply another method due to money matters. What’s your idea? Does the second reviewer’s sanctification is enough for accepting the paper?

  14. @Anonymous

    Only the editor of the journal can answer this question. This being said, can you show that what the first reviewer is asking for is prohibitively expensive?