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This is related to this question, but it is more a special case of it.

I reviewed a manuscript, which was submitted to a reputable traditional journal. The journal has a single-blind review system. I liked the manuscript a lot, as it was closely related to my research interests. However, the authors did not do a great job in reporting the manuscript, and I provided a long review with several suggestions for improving the report.

I suggested major revisions, but the editor rejected the paper. That is ok for me; it is the editor's responsibility to take such decisions. What is important is that the process is now closed.

By re-reading my review together with the other two referee's reviews, I came up with a couple other suggestions that I truly believe would benefit to the manuscript. Would it be a bad practice to contact the authors now that the paper is no longer under review? I do not mind unveiling my identity, and I would do that only because I want to advance the research in the paper. That is, I just want to help them.

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Can you just ask the editor to forward your suggestions? –  Yuichiro Fujiwara Jan 13 at 16:10
    
@Yuichiro Fujiwara, I could (have to check if the submission allows it after editorial decision). However, I would like to let the authors contact me back if they wish to open a discussion on this. –  dgraziotin Jan 13 at 16:24
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Then I think the best course of action is to explain your situation to the editor and ask if it's ok or not. It's the editor who knows the correct answer, not a random stranger on the internet. –  Yuichiro Fujiwara Jan 13 at 16:39
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Did you check if the authors have submitted this work on a preprint website, like arXiv ? –  Tom-Tom Jan 13 at 16:48
    
@V.Rossetto: Yes, I was going to ask the same question. If so, you can simply contact them: "I read your preprint and thought it was interesting. I had the following suggestions..." –  Nate Eldredge Jan 13 at 17:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It sounds like a good thing to do, since the reviewing process for this journal is over. I would certainly appreciate it if I where the author of that article (passed the frustration that generally follows article rejection).

It's almost certain that it will be submitted somewhere else, so your (free) inputs will benefit the authors and the community.

This is valid, of course, only if you are not reviewer again in the next submission, you should definitely decline if it happens.

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I wouldn't even say it is necessarily wrong to contact the authors during the review process. Single-blind review is intended to protect the reviewer, so if you are willing to forego that, I think you're free to do so. I have several colleagues who sign their referee reports. –  David Ketcheson Jan 14 at 10:48
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@DavidKetcheson You want to be careful about not annoying the editor, who might reasonably believe that they've seen all the interactions between the referee and the author. In that way, contacting the authors is different from signing your report. –  Noah Snyder Jan 14 at 16:57
    
@NoahSnyder Good point. –  David Ketcheson Jan 14 at 17:13

One important consideration is whether the paper is publicly available (for example, being circulated on the web as a preprint). If it is, then it's perfectly reasonable to get in touch with the authors and offer suggestions. You don't need to address the question of how you heard about the paper if you don't want to. If you do want to reveal yourself as a reviewer, I think it's fine, but I've run across people who disagree about this.

It's much trickier if the existence of the paper is itself confidential. If for some reason I submitted a paper without circulating it publicly, and then after rejection a referee contacted me privately with detailed suggestions for improvement, I would feel uncomfortable. It would look a little too much like an attempt to become involved in the research or writing, and I would wonder whether the referee might take offense if I just said "thanks for the suggestions" and didn't engage in further discussion or collaboration.

If you have confidential knowledge about a paper, then you must not even appear to be using it for your own benefit. For example, you can't ask to start a collaboration or try to find out more about this research.

If there's no public preprint, then it's safest to make contact through the editor, and at the very least you should ask the editor about what you intend to do (the editor may well object, and in any case you need to avoid seeming secretive about it). Even if the editor approves, you should be careful, since innocent actions may be misinterpreted.

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Thank you for providing this answer. The feelings you assume an author would have are somehow opposite to those suggested by @Jigg. If I contact them, I would make clear that I am not asking to become an author of the paper. +1 –  dgraziotin Jan 14 at 15:57
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@dgraziotin I agree that it is probably a good idea to clarify that you have no ambitions to be co-author or to be acknowledged in any way. –  Cape Code Jan 14 at 16:09
    
I'd second the caution about potential misinterpretation of "former" referee's expression of interest. Several ways for things to go wrong, and if I were the journal's editor I'd tend to discourage such contacts. Instead, contacts plausibly based on publicly-visible documents have much less potential conflict-of-interest or misunderstanding ... –  paul garrett Jan 14 at 20:55

Once a paper has been either accepted or rejected and is, so to speak, through the system, there is nothing that should prevent contact between author and reviewer. One problem is that it is sometimes difficult as a reviewer to know if a paper has been rejected since such decisions are not declared openly and are known only to the journal and the author(s). It is the non-appearance of the finished product that signals rejection. This is true even if you provided a suggestion for rejection since you do not know what the second (or more) reviewer suggested and how the editors decided.

This means you should probably go through the editor therefore you contact the author to make sure you do not complicate the processing of a paper that might still be under consideration within the journal. Contacting the editor and explaining your intent will clear all such potential "hazards".

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I received the editorial decision through the submission system. I am sure that it was rejected (it is clearly written). Should I still contact the editor and inform him/her, as a way to show respect for the editorial system? –  dgraziotin Jan 13 at 16:41
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It is a judgement call. If the paper was definitely rejected you do not need to; if you are uncertain, go though the editor. –  Peter Jansson Jan 13 at 17:13
    
To the down-voter: Without a comment on the reason for the down vote it is difficult to understand where my answer should be improved. As is stated in help: "voting down a post signals [the opposite]: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information" –  Peter Jansson Jan 15 at 7:39

Maybe you should ask yourself the question: "do I want to exchange or collaborate with these guys ?" When I read things such as (I'm quoting you)

  • it was closely related to my research interests
  • I came out with a couple other suggestions
  • I care for the research in the topic to advance
  • I would like to let the authors contact me back

I get the feeling that you might well answer "yes", it really sounds like a good prospect for them and for you. In that case, you really should create a contact.

Revealing yourself as the referee X of their freshly rejected paper is however a bit hazardous, because you don't know how they have felt the reviewing process. They might believe that you, referee X, also sent privately words to the editor suggesting rejection. You won't be able to know that until the authors know you and trust you, this is why it seems more reasonable to remain, at least for a while, under cover. If after some time exchanging with them you feel confident enough that there is no resentment, you may reveal yourself, but I would suggest not to do it.

The question is therefore not solved at all: how to contact them? An idea: Read through their website, homepages, previous publications and look for keywords that you would use for a google search. Enter them in google and try to obtain some of these web pages or articles among the first google results. Then write an email starting by a short introduction of yourself and explaining (very) briefly how you found their names and stating that you are interesting in exchanging with them. Use some keywords as hooks, show enthusiasm and suggest some ideas, but do it in such a way, they don't figure out that you very much more about them. That will be an acrobatic e-mail!

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