I submitted a paper and received reviewers' comments on it. Would using an exact sentence (just a single sentence) that one reviewer used in their comments be considered plagiarism? The sentence is so beautifully put that I can't say it any better.

The comment is:

The problem is X. Maybe you can try Y.

I did Y, and to motivate why I did Y in the text, I added a paragraph, and I want to use "The problem is X" in that paragraph. I'm afraid that I would alter the meaning by changing the wording.

  • 6
    What makes you so frightened of being accused of plagiarism for copying one sentence? Can anyone cite an example of someone running into trouble for such a petty and inocuous reason? Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 12:23
  • 6
    Agree 100% with @SylvainRibault. All responses below seem to me as an overreaction. In the response letter just copy below the reviewer's comment your new paragraph. It will be clear that you're not hiding anything. That's all that's required.
    – elisa
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 13:39
  • 3
    @SylvainRibault maybe the person is not frightened of consequences, but wants to make an ethical decision.
    – usul
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 14:43
  • 5
    Totally agree with the first two comments (and thus disagree with the answers given). The OP only wishes to use a sentence which he finds nicely formulated. I am sorry, but as far as I understand, there isn't any original idea in this particular sentence, it's just grammar. There is obviously no need to cite the reviewer or, worse, put quotation marks around this sentence in the revised version. This is really crazy. Would you cite the referee for each of his corrections to your computations? Each correction of a typo? Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 14:47
  • 2
    This sentence is so good and simple and factual that no copyright claim would hold up. Take it and thank the reviewer in your acknowledgements, for his idea.
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 18:54

3 Answers 3


Reviewers know very well that their suggestions and comments may end up in the final publication. This is the point of reviewing, and no reviewer would (or should) consider it plagiarism if sentences are copied verbatim. Having said that, it is always best to err on the side of caution, so the best course of action would be to let the editor know exactly what you did. You will contact the editor anyway with the revisions, and it is only natural to state that you used the reviewer's quote.

If you want, you can acknowledge the "anonymous reviewer" or ask the editor, and thereby indirectly the reviewer, whether they wish to be acknowledged by name (they will probably decline, but they would be happy at being offered the choice).

Personally, I once was acknowledged as "anonymous reviewer" for a model proposed based on the data in the paper (they used an entire figure I sent them). I fully expected the authors to use my image and model (why else would I have sent it?), but the acknowledgement came as a surprise and made me happy.

  • 10
    "no reviewer would (or should) consider it plagiarism" The reviewer's opinion does not matter. A direct quote which is not marked as a quote is always plagiarism. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 7:59
  • 10
    In fact, it is not that black and white in reality.
    – Louic
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 8:20
  • 5
    @AnonymousPhysicist If it comes as a suggestion to your paper I see no reason to treat it as a quote.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 19:55
  • I agree with this answer. In your response to the comments that you submit with your revisions, point out that you copied the phrase exactly. If there is a problem, the editor should point it out before it becomes problematic. And I would also include a footnote that acknowledges the anonymous reviewer. Something like, "I thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this formulation of the idea." As long as you don't come across as trying to hide anything, I doubt you'll run into trouble. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 23:43

In many cases, the answer will be that it is perfectly natural and fine to use the same formulation as a referee. If a referee comments "In the second paragraph, you may want to point out that all Flimflams are green."; then adding "All Flimflams are green." to that paragraph is not plagiarism. The reason is that stating a fact is not plagiarism, and here the manner of stating it has no intellectual value in itself.

However, your case is different. Rather than copying a completely mundane sentence, you are tempted by a particularly beautiful sentence. There clearly is intellectual value in the formulation. Thus, you should put it in as a quote attributed to the anonymous referee.

As comments by a referee are meant to improve the article, and their name wouldnt be attached to the quote anyway, I don't see any need to ask for permission unless there is something potentially contentious about the quote.


If you use something you need to cite it. And quote it in the current situation. You may want to get permission to do so to keep it clean, but you can cite it as a comment from a reviewer in a "private communication" if nothing else is open to you.

But make sure that you don't leave the impression that the words/ideas are yours.

  • 6
    I have never seen such a citation. It is common to acknowledge reviewers for their ideas. Also citations should be verifiable. These "private communication" citations are frowned upon even if they contain a well know name.
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 18:47
  • 2
    I read that. You cannot quote something that isn't published. Mustn't be published, actually.
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 19:06
  • 4
    You're a seasoned academic, I believe, you've been proofreading colleagues' articles for decades. I am sure many sentences from your feather were published without authorship of citation. Instead, you got "We acknowledge Buffy for his thorough proofreading." No?
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 19:17
  • 1
    @Karl, that wasn't what the OP suggests, nor do I.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 19:18
  • 1
    This is the best answer. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 23:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .