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[This looks like something that might have been asked already, but I have not found a question like this on this site.]

I recently had a paper rejected with resubmission from a top Bayesian Statistics journal. This was not a surprise. My main reason for submitting to the journal was to obtain feedback, which I did obtain. I received two reasonably detailed reviews, one more detailed than the other (the longer a bit over 3 pages), as well as a very short and somewhat cryptic (one short para) comment from the Associate (Area?) Editor. Also, these reviews were delivered very fast, which was good. I submitted the manuscript on 27th of April, and it was rejected on the 3rd of June.

The general tone of the reviews is captured by the EIC's one line summary

Your paper has been read by an AE and two referees. They have all found the topic interesting but with several major flaws in the methodology and implementation

Now, some points in these reviews are unclear. Would it be reasonable to write to the editor asking for feedback on those points from the referees? Perhaps something along the lines of

Is this what you meant? If so, the answer is this. If not, can you clarify, please?

or maybe just

I don't understand what you mean here, can you elaborate?

Assuming the message is forwarded and the referee replies, I suppose there could conceivably end up being a bit of a back and forth with the reviewers via the editors.

On previous occasions I have not tried doing this, but I have come to believe there is no sense in being too shy in such matters. If you want information, ask for it.

However, I wonder if this is considered unorthodox, improper or inappropriate procedure. It is relevant to note that I am not an expert in Bayesian methods. However, the editors and referees apparently thought my paper worth the trouble of reviewing in detail. Regardless, my lack of experience/expertise may hamper me in understanding the finer points of what is expected in the field.

I will of course do my due diligence in trying to understand the content/purport of the comments, but I don't see the point of my spending hours trying to guess what is meant when the referees could (hopefully) clarify the point in a few minutes.

So, to summarize, the upsides are:

  • If I get a response, my eventual fixes will be better and more targeted

  • I don't waste a lot of time trying to guess what someone meant. Maybe it was even based on a miunderstanding

The downsides are:

  • The reviewers/editors will not want to be bothered with responding to me. This will be especially true if this is not considered normal procedure

  • They might be annoyed by my (possible) cluelessness in the area.

If I don't ask for any clarifications, then I will just end up making my best guess as to what the referee means. I don't think that the results would be as good as if I was to get clarifications.

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The simple answer is: there's no harm in sending the editor a polite email to ask. Provided your questions are broadly sensible, they're unlikely to hold a grudge against you for doing so.

However, I imagine that an editor is going to be wary of encouraging a discussion that might irritate his reviewers (who he wants to be able to use again in the future), or which appears to risk developing into a challenge to the review process itself. I suspect that you are unlikely to get a positive response unless your question is very limited in scope: for example, "Reviewer 1 comments that my results would appear to generalise the Jenkins-Smith theorem; however, I cannot find a statement of this. Would the reviewer be prepared to give me an appropriate reference?"

Have you asked a colleague to look over your reviews? Sometimes, counterintuitively, things are clearer to a reader with a shallower understanding of the intricacies of your work.

  • To be clear, I think that if I write (I'm not sure yet) I'll probably ask for a clarification of the reviewer omments, and not attempt to get into a discussion. As you say, this probably won't be received positively. Now that I did think about it, I did recently write to an editor, but in this case asking her for clarifications on her own comments. She replied. However, in that case the editor didn't have to try to get a reviewer to reply. – Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '14 at 8:38
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First, as an editor, I am not happy to see that you send manuscript to journals to get feedback. It is a terrible waste of time for reviewers and editors who work for you for free on their spare (or research) time. So, I suggest not using this as a strategy in the future but at least try to locate journals where you think you stand a chance to be published and also prepare the manuscript accordingly before submission.

To your question. There is no harm writing a letter asking for clarification. A service minded editor will at least reply. But, I doubt that you can expect much interaction with the reviewers, with or without the editor as a middle person since, as mentioned above, these persons are working to serve the community on their spare time and for free. If reviewers are known by name to you, you are of course free to contact the reviewer directly. Again, the degree of response depends on the willingness of the referee to indulge to such communication and, perhaps, their interest in the details of your work. But if your aim is simply to squeeze out information from an "easy" source, I think you need to think again because such behaviour could soon turn out a label.

In your question you specifically ask about requesting references, and I will add that it is not very helpful when referees just allude to references in their reviews without giving them, but then people tend to have different standards. This obviously goes for all sides of the process.

  • "First, as an editor, I am not happy to see that you send manuscript to journals to get feedback". Sorry, I don't understand what you mean. Are you suggesting that I had no plans to publish there and just sent in my paper to get comments? That is obviously not the case at all. In any case, as I said, the paper was rejected. To be clear, I don't understand what you think I did wrong. – Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '14 at 8:41
  • "because such behaviour could soon turn out a label." Sorry, I don't follow this phrase. – Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '14 at 8:42
  • "My main reason for submitting to the journal was to obtain feedback, which I did obtain." - FWIW, I interpreted this in the same way as @PeterJansson. – avid Jun 4 '14 at 9:07
  • @avid Well, because I didn't think the journal would accept the paper. But that is hardly something to criticize me for. People submit to journals all the time expecting to be rejected. If I was wrong and the journal accepted the paper, I would of course publish it there. I still don't see what I am supposed to have done wrong. And now after looking at the reviews I'll have to decide whether to resubmit or go somewhere else, but again that is my decision and not something to criticize me for. – Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '14 at 10:59
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    @avid Well, that is not what I was doing here at all. For the record, the paper was as complete and correct as I could make, working alone. I spent a huge amount of time on it. I certainly didn't submit unfinished work to the journal. That would be unprofessional and disrespectful. Unfortunately, it seems the paper was still up to standard, but I did my best. – Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '14 at 12:14

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