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constant R&R-er

I wouldn't suggest doing this, but I would suggest writing your letter to the editor/referees about changes in such a way that you:

(a) pick the interpretation of the referee that best combines charity with what is most convenient for you

(b) say in the letter "I wasn't totally sure which of a few things the referee had in mind, so I sincerely apologize if I've misunderstood", but also quote the most incoherent bit of the referee report in the letter, so that when the editor reads the letter, they can immediately see, without referring back to the original referee report, that the referee was being sloppy.

Assistant Professor

I like the advice above from constant R&R-er. I would add that referee recommendations are also only recommendations, and it is up to the author to decide what to do with them. You don't NEED to make edits based on every reviewer comment if you deem them not helpful/not relevant/not your project.

So, if you think there is a good/plausible recommendation that you agree with of the referee comments, go with that interpretation, and indicate how you understood their comment, and how you responded to it in your revision. If their comment is so incoherent as not to be useful, you can always say that you understand the reviewer raised additional concerns but that you were uncertain about how to respond in ways that you feel would enhance your paper or something along those lines.


I've had at least one R&R where the editor explicitly invited me to ask them any follow-up questions I might have (I didn't), and they'd pass them along. So I think the answer to the general question is 'yes', although I'd usually opt for constant R&Rer's strategy. There's no harm in a second, smaller round of revising.

chat away

A rule of thumb, I've found, is that those editors who send you the R&R decisions themselves, are normally happy to continue with correspondence about the revisions. And, for what it's worth, I've had two experiences where that was very useful. Both times the reviewers' comments required a lot of work, and i was able to discuss my proposed revisions with the editor in order to get a cautious green light from them. (Of course, it still has to go back to the reviewers, but that the editor is on board is at least some indicator that the revisions aren't a waste of time. And, as it happens, both times the papers were accepted.)

Louis deRosset

I once wrote in a resubmission letter the following: "The first referee ("R1") worries that ... . This is one of those occasions on which I wish I could ask for clarification. [Explanation of what I was puzzled about.] I suspect that R1 has some more restrictive notion of X in mind."

I response, the editor sent the query to the referee, the referee clarified, and the clarified remark motivated further revisions.

The resubmission was accepted and the paper published. I don't think this is exceedingly rare or inappropriate.

Darrell Rowbottom

The question is entirely reasonable, especially if the comment is poorly written. (Editorial experience for several journals: SHPS, AJP, T&D)

Mark van Roojen

It is not unreasonable to ask, though there may be circumstances where it won't get you the desired clarification. But do be careful how you ask. The OP rightly suggested going to the *managing* editor. That would in fact normally be the best way to do it since some journals keep the author's identity from the handling editor(s). Going directly to an editor-in-chief/associate editor can undermine anonymity.

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