Academic Skills

How to disagree with reviewers (with examples!)

It may come as a surprise, but you can disagree with reviewers. Sometimes it is not attainable or sensible to incorporate all reviewer comments in the revisions of your manuscript. In these situations, you have to politely but firmly disagree with reviewers. And there is a proper way to do it.

Critical reflection before disagreeing with reviewers

Peer review is a system to uphold academic standards in publications. And revising a manuscript by responding to reviewer comments is a step that 99.9% of all peer-reviewed publications undergo.

It is good to remember that reviewers are people. People with their own opinions, perspectives and biases. It means that you do not automatically have to follow everything they suggest.

That said, always try to approach criticism constructively. Regardless of how hurtful the feedback is. Even if you disagree with a reviewer’s comment, first ask yourself:

  • Can I use the feedback in any way to improve my paper?

  • Did the reviewer misunderstand what I was trying to say, and how can I be clearer?

  • Can I at least partly incorporate the reviewer’s suggestions?

Disagreeing when reviewers have conflicting opinions

In some situations, it is impossible to incorporate all reviewer suggestions. One of the most common scenarios is the following: Several reviewers have completely different opinions about your paper. And they want you to make changes to your manuscript that are impossible to combine.

What to do?

  • Create an overview of all reviewer comments that you received. For instance in a table. This overview will help both the editor and the reviewers (in case they receive the paper for another round of feedback) to become aware of conflicting opinions and suggestions that were made.

  • Critically reflect on what feedback and suggestions to use for your revision, and which ones not. Justify why you decided not to make certain changes, and to follow certain suggestions.

  • Be specific when pointing out contradictions, by numbering all reviewer comments and referring to specific ones in your answer.

Example scenario

Your study followed a mixed methods approach. Reviewer 1 wants you to drop the quantitative part and focus on the qualitative analysis. Reviewer 2 wants you to expand the quantitative part. Part of your table could look like this:

#Reviewer commentChange / answer
Reviewer 1, comment 1​I think the mixed methods approach is unnecessary and makes the paper too cluttered. By removing the weak quantitative part and focusing on the qualitative analysis, the paper could be improved considerably.Thank you for your suggestion. I decided against removing the quantitative analysis, because the mixed-methods approach is central to my main argument, and one of my key contributions (see Reviewer 2, comment 5). However, I improved the quantitative analysis by expanding the dataset and by better integrating it with my qualitative findings.
Reviewer 2, comment 5​The quantitative data analysis provides unique insights and should be the focus of the analysis.Thank you for the suggestion. Another reviewer suggested to focus only on the qualitative part (see Reviewer 1, comment 1). Therefore, I feel confirmed in my mixed-methods approach, as both my quantitative and qualitative analysis seem to provide new insights that may be valuable for the field. To clarify my mixed methods approach, I included a stronger justification in the introduction and conclusion.

Disagreeing when reviewers request too many changes simultaneously

Another common scenario is that reviewers request many changes that are difficult to implement simultaneously. Sometimes, reviewers just provide several well-meant suggestions, which are easier to reject as an author. However, if a reviewer insists on several incompatible changes, a rebuttal is needed.

What to do?

  • Create an overview of all reviewer comments that you received. For instance in a table. This overview will help both the editor and the reviewers (in case they receive the paper for another round of feedback) to follow your revisions.

  • Acknowledge all requested changes and suggestions, but politely disagree with some. Always justify why you disagree with a requested change or suggestion, pointing out their incompatibility.

Example scenario

Reviewer 3 wants you to incorporate several new elements into your existing theoretical framework, that conflict with, or do not add to, your existing arguments. Part of your table could look like this:

#Reviewer commentChange / answer
Reviewer 3, comment 3The theoretical framework needs to be expanded by focusing on Foucault’s conception of knowledge and power.I decided against incorporating Foucault in my theoretical framework. In the introduction, I refer to other works that use Foucault as the basis, but also explain why Foucault’s theories are not a good fit for my research. I believe that placing Foucault’s conception of knowledge and power centrally in my theoretical framework would contradict with my other arguments.
Reviewer 3, comment 4​The author entirely ignores the more recent discussions on political power. Papers that need to be included are Downing (2021), Frieda (2020) and Trosa et al. (2022).Thank you for the suggestions. I read the suggested articles, but do not feel that they make an adequate contribution to my framework. I did, however, include some other more recent articles in my literature review in order to showcase that I contribute to topical discussions in the field.

Disagreeing with requested changes beyond the scope of the paper

At times it can also happen that reviewers make suggestions that make no sense at all. They may require a substantial rewriting of the paper, which, for instance, does not fit to the empirical data. Or that would result in a completely different paper.

What to do?

  • Create an overview of all reviewer comments that you received. For instance in a table. This overview will help both the editor and the reviewers (in case they receive the paper for another round of feedback) to follow your revisions.

  • Acknowledge all requested changes and suggestions, but politely point out that the requested changes are beyond the scope of the paper.

  • Make sure to be crystal clear in stating your research aim and objective.

Example scenario

Reviewer 1 wants you to incorporate a specific aspect in your paper that was neither part of your research objective, nor part of your data collection. Part of your table could look like this:

#Reviewer commentChange / answer
Reviewer 1, comment 6​The dimension of free choice needs to be incorporated in the literature review and analysis.I disagree with the need to incorporate free choice into the literature review and the analysis. While I agree that free choice is an interesting aspect in and of itself, my paper really focuses on the consequences of decision-making processes. Thus, I do not really focus on how individuals make choices in the first place. Therefore, I believe that adding this dimension would not contribute to my key arguments and findings. To clarify my research focus, I rewrote my research aim and objectives in the introduction. A focus on free choice would certainly be a good topic for a follow-up study.

Disagreeing when reviewers provide nonsensical/unconstructive feedback

The last situation that you can face as an author is one that we are all dreading: Inappropriate and completely nonsensical reviews. These reviews can be unconstructive, mean and hurtful. And they can be entirely illogical.

Fortunately, completely disastrous reviews do not happen too often. But what to do if you receive one?

  • Stay calm.

  • Ask your supervisor or a colleague to look over the reviewer comments to see what they think. It will help you to determine whether your assessment of the review is correct.

  • Email the editor and explain your challenge with the reviewer’s comments. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Instead, be explicit and factual. Point out your struggle to turn the feedback into actionable steps. Provide evidence if the reviewer makes false claims. And ask for guidance on how to proceed with the revisions.

Related Articles

Back to top button