A Guide to Responding to Scientific Peer Review

Jun 17, 2020

A few months ago, as I was participating in the process of scientific peer review as a reviewer, I put together this guide for students on how to write peer review reports. So I submitted my peer review reports to the editors, the editors combined my review along with those of the other peer reviewers, and sent out a decision to the authors. The authors then had a chance to respond to the peer review reports and revise their manuscripts. And now, the editors have invited us original reviewers back to review the revised manuscripts. And such is the ciiircccle of life for scientific publications!

Unfortunately, some of the responses I have received to my peer review reports have been poorly organized and generally frustrating to go through as a reviewer. To hopefully make our reviewers’ lives easier, here is a guide for students on how to respond to peer review reports.

Crafting the “Point by Point Response”

Most reviewers will organize their peer review report as a series of points. As such, the response should also be organized as a response to this series of points.

When putting together such a “point by point response”, it often helps to copy the reviewers’ peer review reports into a collaborative work document (such as a Google Document, or OneDrive Word Doc). I personally prefer to organize the reviewers’ peer review reports as such:

Reviewer 1

Comment 1-1: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.”

Response 1-1:

Comment 1-2: “Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.”

Response 1-2:

Reviewer 2

Comment 2-1: “Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.”

Response 2-1:

Comment 2-2: Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.”

Response 2-2:

And so forth. Note that the reviewer comments are clearly distinguished both by text and color. Additionally, typography (italics, bolding, underlining) can be used to help both reviewers and collaborators working on the same document to navigate the point by point response. Now different authors can begin drafting responses to different comments simultaneously.

The entire report, including the reviewers’ original comments, is then provided to the editor and subsequently back to the reviewers as a reminder of what they had originally said.

Example responses


We thank the reviewer for their feedback and have addressed their concerns in the revised manuscript.

Why it’s bad

Most manuscripts are returned to reviewers many months after our original peer review was submitted. So frankly, we do not remember your manuscript well enough to be able to pinpoint what changes were made. If it is unclear to me where you addressed my concerns in the text, I am unable to evaluate whether my original comments and concerns were fully addressed.


Comment 1-1: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.”

Response 1-1: We thank the reviewer for their feedback and have addressed their concerns in the revised manuscript.

Briefly, we performed new analysis [summarize]. We have included a new supplemental figure [X] and have also provided the figure and figure legends below for their reference:

[Figure and Figure Legend]

We also added a new discussion of these results on page [X] lines [Y] through [Z] and have also provided the text below for their reference:


Why it’s good

By providing my original comment, you’ve refreshed my memory on what I said. You’ve also clearly indicated that this is the comment you are trying to address.

By summarizing what you did and providing the relevant new supporting figures within the point by point response itself, you save me the time of having to put your old and revised manuscript side by side and trying to figure out the difference. By providing both the revised text in the point by point response and a reference to its place in the manuscript, you give me the option of deciding whether the new text alone or in the context of the rest of the revised manuscript sufficiently addresses my comments and concerns.

Additional tips

  • Please do not write an essay addressing different components of multiple comments from the peer review report. It’s often not clear to reviewers which comments you are trying to address.

  • Please do not reference a response to a different reviewer’s comments. If multiple reviewers provide similar comments, it’s ok to write similar responses and reference similar analyses or texts in the revised manuscript. It’s much easier for a reviewer to read through your response to their own comment rather than to read through another reviewer’s comments, assess whether the comments are sufficiently similar, read through your response, and then decide whether your response also sufficiently addresses their own comment.

  • Keep in mind that reviewers are volunteers. In our current system of scientific peer review, reviewers are not financially compensated for their efforts in helping you make your manuscript better. You can always go back through your point by point response after you’ve written down the substitive science and pepper in a few “thank you”s :)

Additional resources