The Worst Reviewer Comment I’ve Received

The worst reviewer comment I have ever had (to date) is, “This paper sounds like it was written by a child”.

How would you handle the response to this comment?

As much as it hurt, my coauthors and I decided not to fight it because unfortunately in the author-reviewer relationship, the reviewers have the upper hand. So, instead of picking a fight with them, we decided (however one of my coauthors wanted to pick a fight) to rewrite a few small sections that were the most complex in the paper, then told the reviewer we had improved it.

The reviewer wasn’t happy, but that was enough to appease them.

I already wrote why we decided not to fight them, but the reason why we didn’t do a major rewrite was because such a comment was so poorly defined that it was an indication that it was coming from an unreasonable person and giving an unreasonable person so much sway was a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, there was no private box we could write to the editor during the resubmission process, so we were stuck having to deal with it.

Our response was enough to take the edge off the reviewer and the reviewer calmed down because they got the sense that we weren’t going to capitulate with everything they said but we did do something, so they kind of got their way.

The second round of reviews was much better. Only this reviewer had any further comments. These comments were minor so we addressed them.

After that second round, our paper was accepted.

If we took a more confrontational approach, the paper would not have been accepted at that journal because the reviewer would have exercised their power and rejected it. If we took a more submissive approach then the paper would not have been accepted either because we likely would’ve been locked in endless revisions with someone who liked making unhelpful comments.

A more gentle and calm approach was needed. So, even if a reviewer is being unreasonable, an effective approach to getting your paper accepted is to be firm but gentle.


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