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My suggestions are these:

* Don't ignore the editors comments.
* Take 'brief' to refer to the response to each comment. Don't take it to constraint the length of the total response. No referee can reasonably complain that you took to the time to address each point, but can complain if there are points that aren't addressed.
* Cross your fingers and hope that the process is uncharacteristically rational.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, Clayton - that's *very* helpful!

I'm trying to keep the individual answers brief. This is very tough too, though, as the paper is quite complicated (and not needlessly so - it's a complicated project), and so are the revisions. I guess I just have to give it my best go, keep things as brief as I can (as difficult as it may be), and keep my fingers crossed when all is said and done. :)


I recently received comments from 3 referees for a book MS (monograph) and was asked to give brief responses. There were nearly 80 comments in total, so unsurprisingly, the total document of responses to referees was about 12,000 words. It was not a problem for the press. I would advise just to do as you always do, answering point-by-point.

Rob Gressis

Hi Marcus,

I've never done an R&R before, but here's my probably useless advice anyway:

Separate your responses into various sections (i.e., "Response to Editor"; "Response to Reviewer 1"; etc.).
Bullet point each one of your responses to their criticisms.
This may increase the length even longer, but, if you haven't already done it, it will make your response a lot more tractable.

Paul Gowder

What Clayton and Helen said: "brief" means "don't ramble or start whiny pedantic arguments," not "there's a word limit."

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, everyone! A quick follow-up: suppose the editor says they would like for me to address a worry raised by both referees, and I've broken up the response document into three sections (viz. "Response to editor's comments", "Response to Reviewer A's comments", etc.).

Given that all three people asked for me to address the issue, do I need to copy the entire response I give in the section replying to the editor in both of the reviewer sections, or would that be pedantic? (Should I instead, in the sections addressing the reviewers, provide a shorter discussion referencing what I said to the editor?)

I'm not sure how to go about this, because copying the same response three times seems to me like it would be pedantic -- and yet, on the other hand, if the editor merely passes the comments I wrote to the reviewers onto them, then not copying the same stuff three times might leave the reviewers in the dark.

Anyone have thoughts on this?


Yep, give them a huge document responding (briefly) to each comment. I number them to make it cleaner for me and the reader. If a later comment was handled by your response to an earlier comment, say so and give the number. "Briefly" responding can sometimes just be saying: "I dealt with this with some additions to p.x" or "I dealt with this in a new footnote, number x"

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: a couple of questions to clarify. Are you saying that I *should* repeat entire responses multiple times (e.g. once in reply to the editor's question, a second time to the first reviewer's identical question, and a third time for the third reviewer's question) -- all in different sections? And am I to understand that I *shouldn't* reply in a section replying to a specific reviewer, "See my above response to the editor's question on this"? I just want to be crystal clear what you (and others) think on this.

Also, when exactly is it a good idea to respond to something vaguely in the way you mention (viz. "I added a couple of sentences on this on p. x"? This is part of what I'm confused about. How much detail should my responses give? I don't want to just rewrite everything I wrote in the paper in the responses, but at the same time it seems wise to me to explain in pretty good detail how I dealt with the concern in the paper. Basically, how much detail is too little or too much? Is it just a matter of guessing -- trying to hit an undefinable mean -- or are there any good general guidelines to bear in mind?

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this!

Shen-yi Liao

I thought this is a really helpful guide, even though it is not from philosophy: http://matt.might.net/articles/peer-review-rebuttals/

Specifically, I thought it was a good idea to rank points in terms of importance. If three referees/editor converge on the same point, that probably deserves to go first, and I would say how that is dealt with and refer to the convergence. I think important points deserve paragraph responses, but less important points can be responded via a sentence, e.g. "I now address this on p. xx".


NO don't repeat responses multiple times. Deal with it once, and later say: This is the same issue I addressed in response to #x above.

On details in the referee report: it depends. Generally, I just say: "Good point, I've added a footnote, see number x" Some of my comments are more substantial, but that's usually when I'm trying to defend why I didn't deal with a particular comment, or when I'm really trying to sell why how I dealt with a comment is adequate.

I've had a couple difficult R+R's, but most have been really easy to manage.

I see the resubmission report as a place to point the referee to where you responded to comments. You don't have to do much more in it.

David Morrow

Another (complementary) option, Marcus, is to include a brief summary of your responses at the beginning of your response. That will give the editor a quick way to decide to send it back to the reviewers.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks again, everyone. Quick follow-up question pertaining to Rachel's last comment (where she says *not* to repeat answers to the editor's comments in both of the reviewer comments, but suggests instead to refer back to the earlier answer). Here's my worry: does anyone know how editors actually *use* the comments? For instance, do they pass on the entire document to both reviewers, in which case both reviewers could refer back to answers I gave to the editor, OR, does the editor merely pass on to each reviewer only the sections in which I answer their comments. If its the latter, the individual reviewers wouldn't be able to look at the references I give them to my answers to the editor. That's what I'm worried about...

Elisa Freschi

Marcus, first I do not think that editors are a special human category, nor that they all behave in the same way. I, for one, have always read what authors had sent me and have acted accordingly (in your case, I would send the whole thing to both reviewers, or at least copy and paste parts of it).

Second, reviewers are also intelligent human beings. Should a careless editor, by mistake, send them only the part of your reply which directly refers to them, and should they find in it statements as "See answer to the editor, p. 6" (or the like), they would write again to the editor and ask for the missing part.

Elisa Freschi

(by the way, when I wrote that "I do not think that editors are a special human category" I was not implying that you do, I was just introducing my experience as editor)


For the journals I refereed for I either got the complete package, or only comments addressed to me. The former case are often specialist journals in philosophy of cognitive science or cognitive science, the latter cases are rare, but if they happen, it's usually in general philosophy journals. My strong suspicion is that general philosophy journals in some cases have only one referee.
My way of responding to referee requests would make it hard for the editor to separate the responses, although they could do so if they want to.

This is the rough schema of my R&R or conditional accept response:

- Thanks to referees and editor for their time and effort
- Response to the editor: (here comes the response to the general comments of the editor, looking forward to the comments in detail. This also gives the opportunity to give a bird's eye view of what you did as revisions went, e.g., I reorganized the materials in sections x and y to make the structure of the argument clearer, following referee 2 etc (this are the sort of general remarks that are hard to give in a point-by-point response).
- Response to referees: bullet points of referee comments, ordered as the paper is written, so if there are comments pertaining to p. 4, par 1, by referee 1, 2 and 3, I put those together.
Comment referee 1:
Comment referee 2:
Response: Referee 1 and 2 both point out that the argument on pp. 4-5 lacks x. In response to this, I have now altered the argument to take into account (objection referee 1) and made reference to (paper referee 2 thought was relevant)

Comment referee 2:

This way of doing things also avoids having to repeat oneself.

etc. The reason I organize the material like this is that I think it's important for referees to see the full picture. When I referee a paper and then see it back many months later, I may be a bit hazy about the paper and I may be surprised to see things changed in the paper that I did not request or do not remember from an earlier version. This way of responding to referees shows them what others think about the paper.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Elisa: Thanks for your comment. I didn't mean to suggest that editors are a "special human category." I'm just trying to figure out what editors tend to do, so that I can put together my R&R response in a manner that will maximize my chances of acceptance!

Hi Helen: Thanks for sharing your approach. It sounds like a great way to go, and I think I'll give it a shot! Quick follow-up. You say in the section responding to the editors' comments that you give a "birds-eye" view of the changes you made. What if the editor is a specialist in precisely the area of the paper, and they said, following the reviewers, that they (the editors) would like to see the paper go into much more detail on X. Then, of course, the reviewers both also asked for much more detail on X.

How would you approach this? In writing a first draft of my reply, I gave a *full* answer in the response to the editors' comments section (i.e. a full overview of how I developed X). Should I have just given a birds'-eye view instead, telling the editor (essentially), "I develop X in great detail on pp. y-z of the revised manuscript, and will explain in detail in my reply to reviewer comments below how I developed x"? I'm now thinking that's the way to go, so that I don't give the full answer in the editor section and then have to repeat it in the reviewer section.

What do you think?


Honestly, there are many right ways to do this. I think you're over-thinking it.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: you're probably right -- but this is a paper I've been working on for a very long time, it's a very complicated argument, the revisions are extensive, and I've had failed R&R's on it before...so I really want to get everything right this time. I wouldn't stress this much over an R&R for most other papers. :)


I totally understand. I stressed over R+Rs before, particularly my most recent one that had some super contradictory comments from two referees. I spent about 30min responding to the first referee, and 5hrs to the second (mostly in the form of the referee report arguing why I shouldn't have to deal with many of the comments).

If you make a good faith effort to handle each of the comments, then how you handle the *referee report*, which is what this is about, is really not that important. I think whatever way you decide to go will be fine. What's important is that you know to *write one* and that you're supposed to address the various comments in it.

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