The ultimate expectation by any author of a research article is to receive ‘strong accepts’ by every reviewer. However, in multiple occasions, it is common to see ‘weak rejects’ and ‘weak accepts’ pop in. These reviewers are called ‘borderline reviewers’ and during the final decision by the program committee, they typically bend toward the opinion of a person giving a ‘strong reject’ or a ‘strong accept’. However, you do have chances during the rebuttal phase to try your possibility to convince them to lean favorably towards you . Below, I suggest some strategies to boost the ‘weak reject reviews’ into ‘weak accepts’ to enhance the possibility of getting your paper accepted for publication.

  1. If you happen to get a bunch of weak rejects alongside weak accepts, focus your efforts in convincing the weak reject reviewers to change their score in the positive direction within the word limit provided.
  2. Most of the reviews would suggest typos, figure qualities, and formatting errors. Have just one sentence at the end of the rebuttal denoting that you would address the typos and improve figure qualities in the final camera-ready version. Do not address individual typo comments thereby hogging the word limit.
  3. Addressing the right questions within the given word limit is an art.

Below are some categories of questions they might ask:

CATEGORY I : Logic/genuine questions: Keywords for these types of questions are ‘where is xxx?’, ‘this x is not addressed.’, ‘how can you assume x?’, ‘the equation x seems truthfully wrong’, ‘why do X- and Y- have the same mean and standard deviation?’, etc. The characteristics for these type of questions are that they appear immediately after the paper summary given by the reviewer. These questions have a trait that they seem harsh. The feeling of this harshness is good! Situations like this provide students with an excellent opportunity to indicate that the reviewer missed something while reading. Responses to these type of questions should never be ‘reactive’ but rather ‘proactive’, lest the reviewer feels offended and decides not the change your score, or in some scenarios reduce the score even further based on the arrogance of the reactive response.

Response: The best you can do is to write down a solid strategy in the review response: “I shall make the point even more evident by 1) illustrating…….2) adding an extra paragraph with relevant references in section x 3) linking the presumptuous section with the logic flow in x”, etc.

CATEGORY II: Suggestions: Keywords for these types of questions are ‘I would suggest the authors expanding details on xxx’, ‘A more comprehensive comparison of your work to ref x would be useful’, ‘I would dig deeper into x domain. It could have many more valuable lessons’, etc. Note the subtle difference between suggestion type questions and beyond scope type questions(c). It is required to be nice and pleasing to the suggestion type of questions – they have a potential to make or break you. Addressing the suggestion type questions of the reviewer who gave a ‘weak reject’ definitely has the potential to change their reviews.

Response: We appreciate the reviewer pointing out the excellent suggestion of incorporating x into y. Our strategy to well incorporate the excellent suggestion x into the paper within the page limit is listed in the following points: 1) We’ll do this and that. 2) We’ll add appropriate technical details of x in one or two paragraphs. 3) If space permitting, we alter/add new diagram illustrating the suggestion.

CATEGORY III: Beyond scope questions: Keywords for beyond scope type questions are similar to ‘suggestion type questions’. Eg: ‘I would suggest the authors to consider the network interference…..’, ‘An explanation of the attacks in layer x (beyond the scope of our paper) would provide the audience with clearer motivation of the problem’. These types of questions are easy to identify since it is very evident that these questions talk about something that your work never ever tried addressing in the first place. A response to this type of question is required, otherwise the reviewer thinks that he asked a genuine question.

Response: ‘The motivation of our work concerns with only the functional/safety/add-your-term aspect of technology x. Considering aspect y is beyond the scope of our work and is an orthogonal research topic. Considering y for x requires further investigation due to the possibility of z happening’. Basically remind the reviewer what your work addresses, once again.

CATEGORY IV: Trick questions: Keywords for these types of questions are ‘Can your solution work for x?’ (where x is a highly scaled version of your prototype).

Response: Remember, as a PhD student you write philosophy – not engineering. So, think and answer whether the hypotheses in the paper can apply to the situation posed by the reviewer and answer accordingly. Never answer – ‘I don’t know since I haven’t implemented it yet.’. That’s the worst answer you could ever give.

In no circumstances never explicitly say that we have not addressed the issue posed by the reviewers. If said so, the reviewers would never change their ratings and encourage you to keep working on the project further and submit next year.