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Is it normal to mention names of people that gave comments on earlier manuscript drafts? Assume the comments did truly lead to improvements.

The context is for a researcher who is not very well-established, but maybe this is a relevant question more generally. My subject is math, but, again, maybe still relevant for other subjects.

When submitting a manuscript to a journal and writing a cover letter, would it be helpful or hurtful to "name drop" more well-known experts? Assume that the person actually did give feedback on the manuscript that resulted in a vast improvement.

My thought is that, editors may be less likely to give fair/serious consideration to a manuscript from a low-status researcher (say one with little publication history, or at a teaching institution, or no affiliation whatsoever), beyond, say, just a more cursory reading. But seeing that the author has had contact with, say, a well-known expert, might be a cause for at least a small amount of extra attention.

Alternatively, it might be interpreted as simply "name-dropping" and seen as distasteful. Though, if the manuscript achieved its present form partly due to that person's comments, then it seems relevant. Of course, one could mention that fact without naming people as well, however, "a person suggested this" just doesn't have the same feel as "Bob A. Famous Expert suggested this."

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    Would these names not be listed in the manuscript's acknowledgments?
    – Anyon
    May 11, 2023 at 22:29
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    A respected/reputable journal should always look at the quality of a manuscript as opposed to who wrote it. In my discipline, many 'name drop' occurs, whereby IEEE Fellows are gifted an authorship. When I handle a paper as an editor, I do not look at who wrote it or the affiliation of authors. May 11, 2023 at 22:30
  • Sure, an editor looks at the quality of the paper first, but unconscious bias could easily play a real role. The first comment seems to allude to names should be in the cover letter only of they are also in the manuscript acknowledgement section? I'd then have to ask what deserves acknowledgement. My sense is that it's a fairly significant bar, like extensive manuscript feedback. So then, that would set a higher bar for name mentioning than what I am asking about.
    – jdods
    May 11, 2023 at 22:42

2 Answers 2

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Reputable journals have a procedure in place that makes this a moot issue. Often, the paper will first be looked at by a lowly peon a.k.a graduate student that will check whether formatting is correct and whether the paper is obviously a dud. In the former case, the authors are informed right away and in the latter case, the submission is flagged to the editors for a desk reject.

If the paper passes this smell test, it is checked by the editor-in-chief or a surrogate that assigns an associated editor. The associated editor then tries to find reviewers to the paper, after again giving the paper under submission a short check about suitability etc., which also could lead to a desk reject or a request to the author to resubmit a version that does not offend.

Name dropping would only help in preventing a false desk-reject, but these are usually looked at independently by different people.

Now, journals do not have to follow these procedures, and often will not based on the discipline. Mathematics papers for example are much more difficult to read than CS papers and have often only a single reviewer and a single editor involved.

So, there is no need to name-drop for a reputable journal.

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  • What is "looked at independently by different people"? Do you mean the cover letter is not generally read by the associate editor handling the paper? That seems to be the most important editor in the process and should probably read a cover letter.
    – jdods
    May 11, 2023 at 22:50
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Having written more than a few cover letters, I'm not sure how this would even be included. It would certainly read awkwardly and I think, as you fear, come off as unprofessional name dropping. Likely it would have no negative effect on acceptance if the paper is of good quality. If the paper is of poor quality, it will not change an editor's mind.

Certainly there are journals or editors who may be swayed by big names. In that case, I would think that the "big name" would need to appear in the author list to make any difference. As already mentioned, if this person did in fact contribute significantly, they should be included in the acknowledgements at least, which would achieve the same goal - having their name attached to the publication.

I would also caution against leaning too hard into the idea that there is a bias against unestablished researchers. Peer review can be a frustrating and drawn out process, but it's unlikely in most cases that one would be held back solely because they lack name recognition, assuming the work is sound.

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