Rebuttal Advice


An excellent rebuttal process suggestion from Albrecth Schmidt. Some more advice from Gene Golovchinsky at FXPAL:

(The following is from Wendy Mackay, Scott Klemmer, Gene Golovchinsky and Bjoern Hartmann)

Wendy: Rebuttals are usually the most emotionally charged part of writing a paper. Remember that, no matter what the reviews say, you need to respond in a polite, clear and factual manner. Your goal is not to argue with the reviewers, but rather to convince the program committee that your paper is worth accepting. This is a tricky writing exercise, no matter how much experience you have.

Two principles from Scott Klemmer at Stanford:

  1. Focus on the changes you will make. i.e., have the rebuttal be forward-looking. (Rather than offering your opinion of the reviews.) Summarizing revisions that will appear is an easy way to generate positive energy. And demonstrate that you understand the concerns. Disagreeing with reviewers is sometimes essential, but most often should be a minor part of the review, not the centerpiece. And don’t recapitulate your favorite part of the review. The reviewers can read.

  2. Show, don’t tell. Don’t say, “In revision, we will compare our work to Cosby ‘83’s Jello Paper.” Say, “The primary distinction between our work and Cosby ‘83 is the use of carrots. We will explain this and add the reference in revision.” Don’t say, “In revision, we will present statistic Y instead of / in addition to statistic X.” Say, “Statistic Y is (BLANK). We will present this instead of / in addition to statistic X.” In other words, don’t say what you will do. Do it, and summarize the upshot in the rebuttal.

Bjoern would add:

  1. Address the most significant issues first, and smaller clarifications last. Issues raised by the 1AC or 2AC are often especially relevant, as they have distilled multiple reviews for you, and they will be present when the paper is discussed.
  2. Use headings (e.g., IN CAPITAL LETTERS) to signal what topic is addressed in which paragraph.
  3. Mention the reviewers who raised each issue (e.g., R1, R3 question our use of a t-test…)
  4. Keep it positive and show that you believe you have a real contribution! Grumbling will not change anyone’s mind.
  5. Start with a few deep breaths. […] Be factual. Rhetoric and invective will not help your case.
  6. Understand the big complaints reviewers might have had, and whether these are fatal flaws in your work, or aspects that can be corrected. Look to the meta-review to see what items the Associate Chair thought were important among the litany collected by the reviewers. The meta-review should highlight the important shortcomings; addressing those will improve your chances of acceptance.
  7. Make sure reviewers know what the takeaway from your paper was. This is the elevator pitch for your paper, and you should have it nailed. Sometimes reviewers don’t read the paper as carefully as you’d like them to, so adding a bit of emphasis here may help alert them to what’s important about the work.
  8. One useful tactic for writing a rebuttal is to offer concrete changes that are responsive to reviewers’ comments.
  9. If the reviewers didn’t understand your analysis, or wanted to see a different cut at it, put some details of the analysis (numbers help!) right into the rebuttal with the explanation that you’ll add it to the paper.
  10. Get someone impartial to read the reviews and your rebuttal, and ask them to comment on the tone as well as on the facts.

A rebuttal writing schedule from Wendy Mackay:

Day one: All authors

Day two: Primary author

Day two: Co-authors

Day three: All co-authors


Day four:

If you won’t submit a rebuttal, at least submit this:

We thank the reviewers for their valuable and constructive critique and will use it to develop this work further for a future venue. Thank you!

Example rebuttal 1

We thank the externals and the 1AC for their thorough and detailed expert reviews. All reviewers find novelty, thoughtful writing, and good coverage of implementation and generalizability. We first discuss issues identified by the 1AC, then additional individual concerns.





© 2020 / Molly Jane Nicholas / email