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In this situation I will address the reviewer's worry at length in the reply letter but only address it briefly in the manuscript (e.g. with a "This is beyond the scope of the current discussion" footnote and some references). I'll also make it clear in my letter why I am choosing not to include it in the manuscript.
Even if the word limit is flexible, this is often the right way to go if you want to avoid unnecessary bloat during the review process. You're within your rights as an author to decline to make requested changes if doing so would lead you to write a paper you don't want to write.


For me, it's the same as with you, Marcus, and postduck.

I generally ask for forgiveness rather than permission, though. So if, after addressing everything and spending a lot of time cutting I'm still, say, 400 words over, I'll flag it for the editor with my resubmission and ask for forgiveness. It's usually all from expanding the reference list, anyway--I can cut a lot of content, but I can't really cut much from the references! It's always been OK.

I've only ever had 1 R&R rejected, and I'm reasonably certain that was on grounds of fit (though it shouldn't have been!). It was a frustrating one, because the paper started out only just under the word limit, and addressing referee issues took several thousand words. I still managed to cut back to less than 1k words over, but there was no way to get around it (in my letter to the editor I flagged a section I could cut to get to the word limit, but also noted it would leave a major criticism unanswered). The rejection didn't come with an explanation, so I'm guessing, but I don't think the word limit was the problem.


I usually just check whether the journal has recently published "regular" papers of a certain length (by regular, I mean not invited or for a special issue). If the journal has published a 12k paper, I assume that my revised paper can be 12k words long.

Also: Perhaps I haven't been doing this right, but I always assumed that word limits concerned the original submission. Otherwise, I don't really understand how some 14-16k words papers end up being published in journals that have an official 10k words limit.


I've also encountered this problem. Once or twice, my revisions were slightly over (less than 1000 words). I didn't say anything, and no one noticed. On other occasions, I made the revisions I thought necessary to the comments and edited, but it was still noticeably over the limit. In those situations, I submit the long version and ask the editor for assistance in identifying content that can be cut to meet word limits. The editors didn't say anything, and the longer version was accepted.

But if you are forced (or simply prefer) to meet the word limit when submitting, the previous techniques work well. You can say a little in the paper, and a longer explanation in your response. Or you can have a long footnote, that should have been an entire section. I think everyone knows that such changes are there because of reviewers.


If they don't ask I just don't tell them. If you've been asked to revise the manuscript and it requires more word count to address the reviewer[s] then that's not your problem. If asked I just say I needed additional words to address the reviewer comments and it has never been a problem.

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