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I submitted a paper to a [science] journal and received some particularly constructive feedback from the referees. I am inclined to add something to the effect of

We are grateful to the referees for their constructive input.

to the acknowledgements, as I have seen in other papers before. But is this considered appropriate?

On the one hand, it seems polite. But on the other, it's part of the job of a referee to make suggestions. Moreover, since they are anonymous and I am not going to specify their contributions, the only information provided in this remark is that 'someone suggested something' which seems a bit pointless.

3 Answers 3

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I usually try to add a line to the acknowledgements to thank anonymous referees and I try to make it honest and clear. Reviewers' time and effort invariably improves my papers and I think it's only polite to thank anybody who contributed for their time, effort, and engagement to making a manuscript better.

Will anybody care if it's missing? Will anybody even notice if it's missing? Probably not. That said, although it may be the "job" of the reviewers to give suggestions, refereeing is something that academics do as volunteers. Reviewing papers is perhaps the most thankless part of an academic job. Acknowledgement of the positive impact that referees have seems like the least an author can do.

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  • Nice, but how does this advice carry over to the case where the paper has been rejected from the journal where the reviews in question took place, and a revised version is being submitted to a different journal? Is there a danger this line in the acknowledgements might make the editor of the new journal suspect that the paper is either published in, or still under consideration by, the first journal, and therefore desk reject? Jul 3, 2023 at 12:11
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    @DanielHatton: The advice still applies. For blind review, you are required to withhold this sort of acknowledgement because it it breaks anonymity. For non-blind review, I imagine any editor will allow you to add this after the paper is accepted when you thank the reviewers of the journal in question if you are worried it will bias the reviewers against your work.
    – mako
    Jul 6, 2023 at 0:55
  • How does it break anonymity? I was considering something like 'the author thanks an anonymous reviewer of an earlier version of this paper, for drawing his attention to the supplementary analytical tools provided by Bloggs (1982).' "Bloggs" passed away in 2008, so we can be fairly confident Bloggs is not the reviewer. Jul 6, 2023 at 12:58
  • @DanielHatton If that's the entire section, it would obviously be fine. The problem is that other text that is commonly in acknowledgements sections reveal things about the authors identity (e.g., workshops, individuals, institutions, funding, and so on).
    – mako
    Jul 7, 2023 at 20:40
  • Oh, I see. It's not double-blind review anyway: the referees will know who I am. Jul 8, 2023 at 15:59
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Referees typically use significant time and effort to provide their expert views on manuscripts in the review process. It is therefore never a bad idea to thank them. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, keep in mind that your revisions, based on their comments and the editor's handling is what the reader's see. It would not be fair to make it seem as if the resulting article is all due to the reviewers comments. In fact, they may end up disagreeing with some points of your final article.

Second, a bad type of behaviour is to acknowledge reviewers in a way that does not reflect their statement. I know of a case where an well respected peer was mentioned as having provided "valuable input on an earlier version of the manuscript" where the review was a "reject" of a really poor manuscript. In this case it was made to look as if the current manuscript was endorsed by the peer, which really was not the case. [to add a further explanation: one can promote ones own work by implying that someone who is a major name has provided input earlier and by doing so have provided input to the state of the manuscript under review]

So, thanking reviewers is a good way to provide acknowledgement to persons who support the process but remember to phrase it so as not to put aspects of the final paper in their mouth that they do not support.

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    I fail to see how "thanks for valuable input on an earlier version" implies endorsement of anything.
    – JeffE
    Nov 2, 2014 at 18:02
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    (1) This answer seems to suggest that you know who the referees are and thank them by name. I had assumed this questions about adding a line thanking anonymous referees. (2) A well explained decision to reject can still reflects valuable input. A "thanks for input" need not and should not not imply endorsement.
    – mako
    Nov 2, 2014 at 18:54
  • No it does not matter if they are known or not. One simply refer to the reviewers as anonymous. In my field anonymity is a choice for the reviewer and it is therefore common to refer to a specific person and an anonymous reviewer in the acknowledgement. Nov 2, 2014 at 22:29
  • @JeffE I am sorry that you fail to see that one can promote ones own work by implying that someone who is a major name has provided input earlier and by doing so have provided input to the state of the manuscript under review. None of anyone I have discussed such behaviour has missed the point. Nov 2, 2014 at 22:32
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Please do not forget that the academic system for publishing original articles owes a lot to reviewers and referees, so I am sure some journal editors will suggest the autor(s) to include the acknowledgemente to them.

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