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Early Career Researcher

As an editor, I've been persuaded by author responses that explain why a part of a referee report is incorrect or misguided. It's definitely fine to make changes in response to reviewer 1 and then explain why no changes were made in response to reviewer 2. It's not guaranteed to succeed, but changing your paper in response to reviewer 2 isn't guaranteed to succeed either.

You should strive to be respectful and not describe the referee's comments as "stupid". As the other comments in the post note, there may be some unclarity in your paper that needs addressing.

Before resubmitting, it'd be best to talk over the report with a mentor or colleague that knows that work. They can help you see whether the report is misguided or if there are some kernels of good criticism that should be taken under consideration.

Subtlety is Overrated

I had a reviewer at a top journal who was clearly ignorant and lazy, to the point that they dismissed my paper for merely repeating the dominant position of the field (when I was clearly arguing for the opposite). They also critiqued me as poorly read, for not "citing the key sources" - yet the sources I was apparently neglecting were rather random and clearly not authoritative at all: the most relevant mentioned was a secondary source author's basic two-page summary of a primary article I was engaging with in depth and detail.

This reviewer's ignorance in the field of my paper was so obvious to me that it seemed embarrassing and even cruel to point it out explicitly. I chose to respond gently, suggesting they may have misunderstood my article and stated that I had another judgment about which sources were most relevant.

My politeness and restraint didn't work. The editor didn't know enough to be able to decide, and despite my very positive first reviewer, my article was rejected. I wish, for the sake of my ten years of work on this topic, I had fought harder. I should have laid out the facts justifying my approach in detail, even if it embarrassed the lazy reviewer. It was my best paper so far, and it ended up getting published in a lesser journal. I'm still disappointed. All because I was trying to be polite.

Bill Vanderburgh

I've encountered this a couple of times. In one case from early in my career, I felt one reviewer was just wrong. I made as many reasonable changes as I could without making the paper worse, then wrote a letter to the editor explaining what I changed, what I didn't, and why. That paper was published. In a second case, I got a very extensive report and decided to answer every query and misunderstanding in a new draft, then cut it back to journal length. Again I wrote to the editor to explain the changes I did and didn't make, with the rationale, explaining that I couldn't tackle any more of the comments in the space available. That paper was published, too. But then I used all the new material I had generated responding to the report by turning the project into a book, which I had not originally thought of doing, so thanks Reviewer #2!

I wonder whether other strategies are available, too. For example, writing to the editor and asking what they recommend. Or writing to the editor and asking them to pass some questions to the referee, to see if you can get the referee to change their mind.

An exercise in reframing

Don't think: "Reviewer 2 said X and X is false". Rather think: "Reviewer 2 said X because they thought Y and misunderstood Z, so I need to argue against Y and clarify Z".

I'm not saying that the first thought is false. But the second thought is what you want to communicate and follow during revision.


For what it's worth, I've had about a dozen R&Rs, and have converted all of them into acceptances. I've never revised a paper in order to address a confused objection, except for when I see how my prose was unclear in a way that led naturally to the confusion in the objection. Instead, I always politely explain the confusion in the letter, sometimes at considerable length if it is a deep confusion (and with apologies for the lack of clarity in my prose when appropriate).

It may be relevant that my work is somewhat methodologically and stylistically idiosyncratic (relative to mainstream analytic work in the area I write about). For this reason, I suspect that I receive R&Rs in the first place only when reviewers are more-or-less on my wavelength. So it may be that I (and others whose work is idiosyncratic in various respects) am more likely than average to get rejected with no R&R, but less likely than average to get rejected after an R&R.


I wish I could be more agreeable in my responses, but 50% of my publications are the results of R&Rs where I had to explain that at least one of my referees was in some significant sense wrong. I've just had one occasion where standing up for myself led to a rejection.

Of course, you should follow the advice above about framing things politely. One detail I will add to that thread of discussion: I will often introduce small changes that are absolutely not what the referee asked for, but something that I say in my letter will help people avoid reading me like the referee did. I think this actually makes the paper slightly better, sometimes, but even if it doesn't, I think it makes it seem to the editor like something is still happening, that the review process seems to be improving the paper in some concrete sense. In my experience, the goal has not been to persuade the referee that they are wrong, but to persuade the editor that the referee is wrong.

Enthusiastic revisioner

Like other commentators, I have converted all my R&R into acceptances, and I have gone through on average two rounds of R&R each paper. I can say that I feel pride of my R&R reply skills independently of my paper content (you can feel it if you write a good reply, just like you can feel it when you have a good idea etc). Indeed, sometimes I write replies as if it were itself a serious medium of doing philosophy. (Sadly, I got lots of rejections that could have been R&R which I would be able to convert into acceptances.)

Anyways, here's my experience, and I hope it will be helpful for OP: I have read many sloppy reports and some of which seem clueless, as well as excellent but extensively picky ones, and I have never dismissed a single criticism regarding content. I have always found a way to charitably interpret a referee's point and make revisions based on that (often just minor clarifications). I often have "eureka" moment when I understand why a referee misunderstood something.

That being said, looking back, I feel that I might have done too much. It is probably okay not to engage with every single comment. (I become aware of this through coauthoring.)


My approach is generally to avoid making significant changes to a manuscript if I do not think that those changes are improvements. I figure that I will be more happy if the paper is eventually out and I am happy with the product, even if it takes longer or comes out in a less prestigious venue, than if I bloat the paper or otherwise make changes to it I don't like. However, I partly take this approach because I have decided not to pursue an academic job, and so my publishing now is more for personal, rather than professional, reasons. If I were still "in the game" I might be more inclined towards compromise.

As others have said, it's important when doing this to carefully and politely explain, in your revision comments, why you disagree with the referee. I also echo the comments which have said that there are often small ways of changing a paper to make it less prone to misinterpretation, if you feel that's the problem with the review.

More problematic than reviewer misunderstandings are reviewer requests that are simply impossible to fulfill or so idiosyncratic that it is a waste of time and space to address them in the paper. In the latter case, these may take the form of fringe or weak objections that you doubt other readers will share.

The worst, of course, are the former. I recently had a terrible experience at Phil Studies in which I waited over 1 year and 3 months for the initial review, in which one reviewer requested analyses of the concepts of metaphysical possibility and ability. Of course, this task would take two whole books to adequately perform. I wrote a detailed response explaining why this task was both unnecessary and impossible to do in my paper. Almost two months later, I received an extremely dismissive, 3-sentence rejection from that reviewer. I strongly suspect that there was nothing I could do to the paper that would satisfy both myself and that referee (maybe, for example, they would have been satisfied if I wrote a new section endorsing their favorite theory of possibility).

In these cases, I suggest just submitting your revision as quickly as possible and being prepared to move along to a more sympathetic reviewer, while hoping that the editor will exercise their judgment to override the reviewer's judgment.

Louis deRosset

There's lots of good advice in the coments. I just want to emphasize that every comment from a referee is a gift. It can be difficult to accept a gift graciously when it is not given graciously. But even the curmudgeonly or doofy referees are doing you a solid. A referee comment that poses a dumb objection or relies on an uncharitable or otherwise incorrect reading is an indication that the relevant part of the part needs work to make it sharper. Revising accordingly does not always mean changing the paper to specifically address the question or objection. But it is polite to someone who has given you the gift of their commentary to specifically address the question or objection they have posed.

- From a referee who has, on occasion, posed dumb questions.

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