After Submission and Handling Referee Comments: Unfair Review?

After Submission and Handling Referee Comments: Unfair Review?

Author: Richard Threlfall

Have you ever struggled to write up your results into a publishable paper only to get it rejected? Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives some insider tips on how to handle comments from referees and what to do if you feel you have been unfairly treated.


Unfair Review?

Having a manuscript rejected is an upsetting experience, but is also one that you can learn from. The referees’ comments are there to help you improve your manuscript so you get a better result next time. However, what happens if you think you’ve been treated unfairly during the peer-review process? What if you think the referee has missed a really important point in your paper? Perhaps you think that the referee has made the wrong interpretation of your data or neglected previous results that agree with yours.

You should think of the peer-review process more as a critical discussion of your paper and remember that referees are human too, which means they sometimes make errors. You are entitled to appeal a decision that is made on a manuscript, but you must have very good scientific reasons for it.

The best way to do this is to write a letter to the journal editor that explains your opinion and the science behind it. Point out where you think the referee has the wrong idea or has missed something and why this affects the overall assessment of the manuscript. The editor will then consider all the evidence, possibly with the help of another referee or members of the journal’s editorial board, and decide whether to accept or reject the manuscript.

What you should definitely not do is write a ranting letter telling the editor how many other articles you’ve published in how many other journals and that this is the first time you’ve had this ridiculous problem and you can’t believe the decision and you’re heartbroken and you’re the chair of this department and you’ve just won this prize … and so on.

When you get a rejection letter from a journal take some time out to think, and then if you want to appeal, write a dignified letter that contains a strong scientific case for reconsidering your manuscript. Unless the science supports your claims, an editor will not look again at your manuscript just because you’re upset!

If you’ve followed all our other tips for writing great science papers, then hopefully this doesn’t happen to you and we can carry on to the next part, which deals with the happier subject of manuscript accepted or revision requested!




  1. Richard Threlfall

    @Xiwen Chen – A good journal will publish good work regardless of how “famous” the authors are. Likewise, “famous” authors get bad papers rejected too 🙂 I suggest that you focus on really emphasising why your work is important, what important question it answers, and what your work offers that is unique. You should think about these things from when you start a new project too! If you think you’ve been treated unfairly during review, this is a different matter and you can read what your options are here:


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