I get to say these things over and over so I thought about writing them here for further use.
You received a review of your paper. You feel the need to burn the world down in anger1 but your only viable action is to make a point-by-point response. What to do? Two things.
Show, don’t tell
(First of all. Answer all comments - needless to say but, well….)
For each comment, keep the response short and copy-paste the new/revised text under that. Let the new/revised text speak for itself.
Don’t argue, don’t discuss with reviewers, this is not a chat, instead let the new/revised text answer their comment.
This is the “Show, don’t tell” approach.
Reviewer comment: The sources for the data mentioned in line 215 are not cited, this is a shortcoming.
Good response: Sources now added (Sect 2.1): “Data on icecream and pizza consumption were retrieved from Rossi et al. 2022 and from Nielsen et al. 2023 respectively.”
Bad response: We disagree this is a shortcoming because the data sources are explained in previous paragraphs and we think this level of detail is sufficient. As explained previously in the paper we took data about eating icecream from the paper of Rossi et al. 2022 and the data about eating pizza are from the report of Nielsen et al. 2023 and these are the best sources we could find and we also think they are the most reliable. Therefore we believe the lack of citation in this section can not be considered a shortcoming. …it is bad because: yawning long, no section mentioned, no change mentioned, a lot of irrelevant arguing - really, who cares about your rants?
Keep the right state of mind
“You will know [the good response to the reviewer?] when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” — Yoda
Yes, a bit of cheap zen attitude helps a lot when writing your response.
Don’t argue with reviewers. This is not a discussion. Every time you argue you weaken your position. This is not a tennish match. There is no ball to throw on the other side to make a point.
In this sense it helps sometimes to think that you are writing to the editor, not to the reviewers (it helps to avoid arguing). You are writing to the editor to show what you have done, not to the reviewer to offer explainations or clarifications.
Sometimes I hear that people feel “attacked” by reviewers. Don’t let the reviewer get to your nerves. “Attacks” are irrelevant.
Was a specific revision required? Has the paper been revised accordingly? That’s all that counts.
Just write what revision has been done and where (show don’t tell, see above). As good old Dante Alighieri says:
“Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa”.
The line in the sand
Of course, there are situations where one should forget everything I wrote above and go nuclear.
Personal offenses, implicit or suggested accusations of misconduct without evidence, denigrating, sexists or patronizing comments, etc.
Zero tolerance for this stuff. Write to the editor that you don’t want to deal with anything like that and offer no answer than that to the reviewer’s comment.
For a short period of my academic life, I used to first write a draft response document with very furious answers to the comments received, to let the anger out. Or the frustration, I guess. Then I would let the document “rest” for one day or two. Then read it again, cancel everything, and start over. This is a very stupid approach, don’t use it. ↩