What to do about peer reviewer #2: Facing down fear when responding to negative comments on your work


Peer reviewers are researchers too. This means that we know that anyone visiting the ReviewerCredits website to learn about the peer review process, get training on how to effectively perform a peer review for a journal, or be rewarded for a job well done is also an active researcher. Simply put: You need to be active in a research field in order to be an effective peer reviewer. Peer review is therefore a very ‘sticky’ stage in the research cycle, as business people like to say; perhaps, some would argue, it is ‘the stickiest’.



But before we come onto just how ‘sticky’ peer review is (a subject of a later post), let’s think about a very common situation that we’ve all encountered as research authors: How to manage negative comments on our work received in peer review. It happens all the time: Peer reviewers most often adopt a negative mindset when asked to work on articles for journals. They tend to think: How can I pick holes in this research? Or even: How can I bury this work and stop it from getting published? We’ve even encountered ‘jealous’ peer reviewers who think ‘why am I not an author on this study’. We’ve seen it all at ReviewerCredits.

From a researcher’s perspective, negative comments can be heartbreaking. No-one likes to hear that the project they’ve been working on for months, or even years, is terrible. Bad science. Not worth the paper it’s printed on. Negativity in peer review is sadly common, but really there is no excuse for it. One of our missions at ReviewerCredits is training: To help peer reviewers adopt a positive, career-enhancing mindset when evaluating the work of others.

You’ve been waiting, perhaps for a number of weeks – or even months – for peer review comments to come back on your paper. Receiving negative comments on your work, especially from peer reviewers, can be a daunting and disheartening experience. However, it’s essential to view these criticisms as opportunities for growth and improvement. In this blog post, we’ll explore effective strategies to face down fear and respond to negative comments from “Peer Reviewer Two,” the one whose feedback might seem overly critical or demoralizing. By adopting a positive mindset and implementing constructive approaches, you can transform these challenges into valuable learning experiences.

Here are some ways to manage this process and ‘deal with Reviewer 2’.

Embrace the Power of Perspective

When faced with negative comments, it’s easy to feel personally attacked or discouraged. However, it’s crucial to shift your perspective and recognize that criticism is meant to enhance your work, not undermine your abilities. Remember that reviewers are offering their opinions based on their expertise, and their input can ultimately help you improve your research or writing. Embracing this perspective will empower you to handle feedback more objectively.


Take Time to Process

Upon receiving negative comments, it’s natural to experience a mix of emotions—frustration, disappointment, or even anger. Instead of responding immediately, allow yourself time to process these emotions. Step away from the feedback and engage in activities that help you regain clarity and composure. This break will enable you to approach the comments with a fresh mindset, ready to assess them constructively.

Think: Try to distance yourself from the comments received. Although they are overly negative, does the peer reviewer have a point? Is there anything positive at all you can take from what they’ve written? Or are the comments so far out there that really they can just be ignored.


Distinguish between Valid and Invalid Criticisms

Not all criticisms are created equal. Some negative comments may indeed be valid and highlight areas that need improvement, while others might be subjective or lack a solid foundation. It’s crucial to evaluate each comment carefully, considering the reviewer’s expertise and the impact their suggestions could have on your work. By discerning between valid and invalid criticisms, you can address the relevant points and disregard those that may not contribute to enhancing your work.


Seek Support and Perspective from Others

Dealing with negative feedback alone can amplify the fear and self-doubt it may evoke. Instead, seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends. Discussing the comments with others can help you gain new insights and perspectives, allowing you to better assess the feedback’s validity. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network will boost your confidence and remind you that you are not alone in facing challenging reviews.


Responding with Professionalism

Crafting a thoughtful and professional response to negative comments is crucial. Remember that your response is an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to improving your work and engaging in scholarly discourse. Start by expressing gratitude for the reviewer’s time and effort, acknowledging their valuable input. Address each criticism individually, providing a clear rationale for either accepting or refuting their suggestions. When refuting a comment, explain your reasoning based on evidence, previous studies, or alternative perspectives. Stay respectful and avoid becoming defensive, even if the feedback seems unjust. This approach will not only uphold your professionalism but also promote meaningful dialogue with the reviewer.

Receiving negative comments from “Peer Reviewer 2” can be intimidating, but it’s important to face this fear head-on. By embracing the power of perspective, taking time to process, distinguishing between valid and invalid criticisms, seeking support, and responding with professionalism, you can transform negative feedback into an opportunity for growth. Remember that criticism, when approached constructively, can contribute to your development as a researcher or writer. So, the next time you encounter Peer Reviewer Two, take a deep breath, embrace the challenge, and turn it into an opportunity for improvement and excellence in your work.


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