Getting your paper published: Reviewers’ comments

I recently attended a talk given by the editor of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, who gave his best tips and things to look for when you’re trying to get published. This is part 3 of 3. Check out part 1, cover letter and abstract, and part 2, how to write your paper.

Hopefully by now, you know what not to avoid when writing, and how to perfect your cover letter and abstract for the editors.

Time for the reviewers comments to come back.

Some of the most common issues raised by reviewers are;

  • Interpretation

This can range from over-interpretation, overstating the importance of a difference in treatment regimens when they’re ‘nearly significant’, or even putting an emphasis on a statistically significant result that in reality isn’t likely to have any biological or clinical relevance.

  • Limitations

As much as we all love to think our research is perfect, every model system or model organism has its limitations. Failing to mention these in your discussion is definitely a big no-no from a reviewers point of view. They need to see that you’ve fully considered all aspects of the research, and want you to point out any failings or potential stumbling blocks. If you’ve used model organisms, is it likely to translate into humans? Will the results you got from cells in culture be the same in vivo?

  • Overstating your findings

As tempting as it is to jump 10 steps ahead and imagine your ground breaking work take the leap straight from cells growing on plastic to treating patients. take a minute and remind yourself what your results actually say. Avoid making summaries and conclusions that your data doesn’t fully support, and is starting to turn into guessing and speculating what it all might mean.

Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock that your paper wasn’t immediately accepted, its time for the tedious task of of responding and rebutting the reviewers’ comments.

PhD comics reviewers comments

Try to remember that the purpose of reviewers is to make a paper better and scientifically stronger than before. It’s an opportunity to improve not a criticism, although it does sometimes feel like a personal attack.

Always be sure to respond within the deadline, which sounds easier than it actually is. If you have to do more experiments that you haven’t got time for within the current deadline, email the editor and ask for an extension. That way, they at least know you’re working on it.

Perhaps most importantly, respond to, and address, ALL of the editorial comments. Don’t forget, these are the people who have the final say after the reviewers, and have the power to ignore some reviewers comments.

Do you have any reviewer horror stories? What have your reviewers commented in the past?




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