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How to write an effective Revisions Letter

A revisions letter is the letter you write to the editor of a journal to which you have submitted a paper for possible publication.

Purpose of a revisions letter

The purpose of the revisions letter is to convince the editor that you have adequately revised the original manuscript to address all the comments made by its peer reviewers. The ideal outcome of resubmitting your revised manuscript and submitting a good revisions letter is that your article is taken up for further processing by the journal – copy editing, typesetting, page make-up and so on, leading ultimately to publication, without need for further revisions. To achieve that outcome, you need to keep in mind that although the letter is formally addressed to the editor, it is likely that the reviewers too will read it.

Writing an effective revisions letter

Here are some suggestions for writing a revisions letter – in a way that makes it likely for the desired outcome of publication to be achieved.

1. Write with an open and collaborative frame of mind

Although revision letters are often referred to as rebuttals, this can sometimes imply an adversarial stance. Actually, you should write the revisions letter with an open and collaborative frame of mind, believing that all the parties – the editor, reviewers and you – have a shared aim, namely to publish a useful contribution that will advance the stated purpose of the journal. 

Tip: It is for this reason that many resources on publishing research papers advise you not to respond right away, especially if the reviewers have been harsh. Avoid responding in the heat of the moment.

2. Include clear responses to the comments

Your response to each point should show that you have understood it and have given it the consideration it deserves. Begin by reproducing the comment, rephrasing and shortening it as necessary, and follow up with the response, which can be quite short if the point can be dealt with easily. 

For instance, the reviewer may have pointed out that the temperature at which the experiment was conducted should be specified. In that case, all you need to say is that it was conducted at, say, 40 °C, and that the detail has been added to the Materials and Methods section at the appropriate place.

3. Respond to each point – even those you disagree with

The letter should convince the editor and, in turn, the reviewers that you have addressed all the comments and suggestions – and the most efficient way to do that is to number each comment (including suggestions, if any) and then offer your response. 

Note that although the reviewers will have made many suggestions, you can decline some of them. Remember that addressing a comment does not necessarily mean that you have to accept and agree with the comment. It can just mean that you respond to a particular comment and share your arguments for why you have chosen to decline those suggestions.

4. Respond rationally to comments you disagree with

Disagreeing can be tricky but sometimes unavoidable.

If a reviewer has suggested that you undertake additional experiments and studies, see if you can show that as far as the present paper is concerned, your data support the conclusions, although the suggested study may have strengthened them even more.

Another possibility is that the additional study is no longer possible for reasons of logistics or because the sample has been exhausted, and so on.

5. Respond to comments about language after taking necessary action

Sometimes, the reviewers will have advised you to have the manuscript copy-edited by a native-speaking editor or editorial agency for language, usage, correct grammar and so on. To respond to such a comment, you could add that you have had the manuscript revised for language by a professional editor or an editorial services agency.

6. Refrain from excessive thanks

Refrain from thanking the reviewer every time you offer your response or from saying that you agree with the reviewer. If the reviewer has been particularly gracious and helpful, you could acknowledge that help before beginning the point-by-point response.

7. Present your responses in a tabular format

It can be a good idea to present your responses via a table. For each reviewer, draw up a table with three or four columns. The first column will show the comment number; the second, the comment or suggestion; the third, your response; and the fourth, the relevant excerpt from the revised text. Any general comments can come before the tables or after them.

No. Comment/Suggestion Response Excerpt from revised text

8. Conclude with a thanks

End the revisions letter by thanking the editor and offering to undertake further revisions if required.

Happy revising!


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