Two part question

Part I

For a revised paper following a review by referees, to what extent is each of the following acceptable or unacceptable:

  1. Use the exact sentence from a report without quotations or acknowledgement of the source?
  2. Use a series of sentences (almost) verbatim from a report without quotations or acknowledgment of the source?
  3. Repeatedly engage in 1. or 2., possibly to the point where sum total of a page in the revised draft are unattributed quotations from a report?

Part II

What the reviewer should do in case #3 above, when reviewing the revision in a subsequent round. Should this be brought up in the report for the authors? In private communication with the editor? Both? Neither?

  • Is there a note at the end along the lines of "We would like to thank the referee for suggesting improvements to Section 3"? Jan 20, 2019 at 23:50
  • @NateEldredge Only a generic "thanks to the editor and anonymous referees" along with the thanks to other people.
    – daegan
    Jan 20, 2019 at 23:56
  • Is it an intellectual contribution (as assumed in the answer by @Ben) or do you mean that the reviewers have suggested some text that makes a point more clearly? If it's phrasing, then the usual referee thanking is sufficient.
    – JenB
    Jan 22, 2019 at 10:56

3 Answers 3


If you are the reviewer, just let the editor know the plagiarism problem. Hopefully this is prior to the paper getting out.

A reasonable outcome would be for the text to be paraphrased AND a more specific acknowledgment made "one reviewer for specific content in section 3". I would gently suggest such to the editor. "Please go ahead and take whatever action you feel best as editor, but I suggest modify the text and make a more specific acknowledgment".

An alternate outcome is to leave the text as is and become a co-author, (If the contribution meets the threshold. Perhaps it might on a review or theory paper.) But I would not be seen as pushing for such an outcome and it comes with issues of its own (now you are tied to the rest of the paper).

If the paper was already published, I would still let the editor know, but I would copy the editor in charge (since the subeditor let the plagiarism of the reviewer text get by). It's not the end of the world for the subeditor but he needs to be mildly held to account also.

All this assumes it is not some junky journal. If it is and they don't take action, you should obviously stop reviewing for them (and shouldn't review for junky journals regardless). If it is a conference proceedings the issue is a little trickier since they don't really have all the same systems and editorial strengths, but I would still notify both subeditor and editor of the problem.


In these cases it is usual to paraphrase the words of the referee into your own words, but also give attribution to the source. An example of a paper that makes extensive (attributed) use of referee work is Kuenon (2000). In that paper the author paraphrases the work of an unnamed referee and attributes that work as follows (emphasis added):

  • "But as pointed out by a referee, (1) is an immediate consequence of Bonferroni's inequalities (Feller 1970, pp. 110-111) and therefore enjoys the property that the error incurred by truncating the sum after any number of terms has the sign of the first omitted term and is smaller in absolute value."

  • "Moreover, a referee pointed out that taking s as the saddlepoint for S, the sum of independent and identically distributed left- truncated Poisson variables, implies very accurate approximations."

  • "Levin's Edgeworth approximation at the saddlepoint of S allowed a referee to reproduce all of the exact values shown in Table 3, except of the value in the lower right hand corner, which was 1,481,168."

  • "A referee has kindly calculated the median number to be 451,617."

Here you can see that some parts of the paper (e.g., the exact values in Table 3) were done by the referee, and are reproduced by the author with attribution. This seems to me to be an appropriate way to proceed. Still, if for some reason you would like to quote the referee verbatim, then I would expect that this would be treated just as any other quotation from another source ---i.e., it should be in quotes, with a citation to the source (Referee report, unnamed referee).


Perhaps you (or the author, if not you) are misunderstanding the purpose of the reviewer's reports. It shouldn't be to give the author words that s/he must/should include. It is to help improve the ideas and expressions in the paper.

In most cases the author don't actually know the reviewer and the words haven't been published. But, rather than use their words, the author(s) needs to think about what they want to say and the best way to say it, taking the reviewers suggestions into account when appropriate.

However, in some fields, such as mathematics, it is known that there is, in essence, only one way to say something (equations and the like). But even there, the referee is expecting that the author will just say the right thing based on, perhaps, a new understanding that they now have after reading the referee's report.

So, in essence, it is the author's words should be to used, perhaps influenced by those of the reviewer.

But yes, the author needs to include a note thanking the reviewers for valuable suggestions.

In the case of a reviewer who objects to his/her words being used verbatim without attribution or acknowledgement, yes, the reviewer should raise the issue. The editor may need to make a judgement about propriety and that may depend on how much was taken from the report.

  • 1
    I agree with you about the purpose of the reports. However, your answer does not address my question about the degree of acceptability or unacceptability of engaging in the behavior described in points 1), 2), or 3). Also, I ask not as an author in this scenario, but as a reviewer in this scenario. I'll edit the question to make this more clear.
    – daegan
    Jan 21, 2019 at 0:00
  • updated as per your comment
    – Buffy
    Jan 21, 2019 at 0:11

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