28

I just got a paper accepted without revisions in a prestigious journal. This is of course nice. Reading the referee report makes me a bit worried, though. It is clear that the referee has gotten the basic ideas of the paper, and has identified what we also think is the primary contribution. It is, however, also clear that quite a lot of details regarding the implications of the primary result, were not correctly understood by the referee.

What actions should I take from here? I of course want the paper published, but I am worried that people in general will misunderstand the parts about implications. Should I contact the editor and ask for another reviewer? Should I ask permission to re-write that part of the paper? Or should I just shut up and be happy to be accepted without revisions?

  • 2
    Were there other reviewers who did appear to understand the part you think may possibly be unclear? – Ian_Fin Oct 19 '16 at 12:42
  • 20
    In our field it would be very strange if a prestigious journal used one referee only, and even more strange for a paper to be accepted in such a journal without revisions. – Federico Poloni Oct 19 '16 at 12:44
  • 2
    I would really rather not go in to more specific details about the journal or my field, as I don't want the referee to find this question... – nabla Oct 19 '16 at 12:52
  • 4
    Your concern is that other people might misunderstand the paper as well. This is a valid concern, but at this moment, you have little data to support that it actually applies: the reviewer might just be an exceptionally bad/hasty reader. To be sure, you could have additional proofreaders from your network of colleagues read your paper and let them comment on it. – lighthouse keeper Oct 19 '16 at 12:57
  • 14
    @nabla: The referee probably thinks they have fully understood the paper. They are unlikely to assume a story about a referee who did not fully understand the paper is meant to refer to them ;) – O. R. Mapper Oct 19 '16 at 13:12
37

As is the custom on this site (or at least it should be) let's assume the premises of the question are correct - that is that it is indeed a prestigious journal.

Do nothing.

In fact no: celebrate acceptance in the way you find most appropriate.

The fact that some people misunderstand what you're trying to say is not a basis to act after acceptance. It might indicate that you presented your results in a not so clear manner — which would speak in favor of refining your writing for future articles — but that would not be an exception in the scientific literature. At any rate, edits (other than very minor ones such as typos) after final acceptance are generally not allowed.

If you see errors in your article that are not trivial and you feel need addressing, the appropriate way to handle this is to publish an erratum. I imagine most journals have a standard procedure for that.

  • 7
    "At any rate, edits after acceptance are generally not allowed." - really? I'm more acquainted with conferences than with journals, but there, the camera ready version often does include edits in response to the reviews. Granted, there usually is no second, third, and so on, review round for conferences, so it's more customary for the "final" accepted version to still receive a few minor changes for clarification in response to the reviewers' comments before becoming the camera-ready version. – O. R. Mapper Oct 19 '16 at 13:15
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper well if there are still edits to do in response to reviews I wouldn't consider it accepted. I'll specify "final acceptance" in my answer. – Cape Code Oct 19 '16 at 13:48
  • 3
    Ok, never mind then. It's indeed different from CS conferences, where "accepted" (as in final acceptance; inclusion in proceedings more or less guaranteed and no more reviews to come) usually means "accepted without any substantial changes to content or structure", which does not exclude the possibility of some minor improvements in wording or visual presentation between the accepted and the camera-ready version. – O. R. Mapper Oct 19 '16 at 14:05
  • 1
    I had a paper through peer-review and then was allowed to change a few sentences, even at the camera stage – henning Oct 19 '16 at 14:49
  • 1
    @henning I'm sure there are variations between journals and practices, hence the word 'generally'. – Cape Code Oct 19 '16 at 15:17
20

Celebrate the acceptance, but rework the sections that were apparently poorly understood.

You will want your readers to fully understand and appreciate your contribution. A clear paper is not only more useful, it is also more frequently cited. If a reviewer, who more closely looks at your paper than the usual casual reader, misunderstands, this is a warning-signal.

In practical terms: You could approach the reviewer (via the editor, to be sure) with your concern that parts of the paper were not as clear as they could have been and politely ask whether she might explicate which passages could be improved in terms of their transparency. You could also ask other colleagues to have a look at your paper, focusing on the clarity of your writing. Also signal to the editor that you would like to make some minor stylistic revisions before submitting the final manuscript, so the editor knows what to expect and when.

  • Risks making the referee change their mind. Present the work at conferences and write a pedagogical proceedings – innisfree Oct 20 '16 at 13:16
  • @innisfree It depends on how you approach the reviewer. You could write something like "Thank you for the constructive feedback etc. We were happy that you found our article convincing. As you know, a transparent paper is cited more often and in general more useful to the reader. We believe that some sections of our paper could be written in more simple terms. Therefore, we would like to improve the paper's clarity. You would help us a lot if you could point out briefly which parts you found least transparent, presuming an expert but casual reader". – henning Oct 20 '16 at 13:35
  • 1
    Do you know for a fact that a transparent paper is cited more? Depends on whether insights or mistakes/weaknesses become apparent. Don't open up a can of worms. Just be happy it's accepted. – innisfree Oct 20 '16 at 13:53
  • 1) I don't. It just seems plausible, since I can only cite what I understand. 2) I'm not sure if that is maybe the prudent thing to do, but it's certainly not the right thing to do. – henning Oct 21 '16 at 6:08
5

It often happens that referees have no time to understand the papers they are supposed to review. It's a systematic consequence of the imperfection of the current peer-review‒system. At the moment, not so much could be done about it. Said that,

  • there is no reason for celebration, since you are not sure whether your paper was intelligible,
  • there is a reason to feel satisfied since the paper was accepted,
  • but actions as you mentioned are neither required nor expected.

If you really wish to do something, you can improve the text at the earliest point the reviewer had a problem with. Of course, you could ask the editor to issue a request to the referee to tell you this earliest point, but the editor or referee may choose not to answer: it goes beyond the usual duties of their roles.

Too many improvements could be regarded as deviating too much from the accepted part. Typically, improvements are regarded as acceptable only if they address the concerns raised by the reviewers.

3

I can't comment due to newness, but wanted to support Cape Code's answer with additional thoughts:

Do Nothing. As the author of a paper, you cannot prevent any reader from forming their own conclusions. Any reader, like the referee in question, will have variance with the precise point you would like to drive. Also, when a reader sufficiently internalizes the material, his/her own way of expressing the idea will be quite different than your own.

If it were me, I would first examine the referee's comments as though he/she wrote the paper. Does the conclusion seem compatible with the point I was trying to make? If so, I personally would leave it alone. If it does not seem compatible and I had such recourse, I might reach out to the referee and ask for deeper feedback regarding his/her unexpected response.

Only if the reader's conclusion were totally incompatible with the one I was trying for and such erroneous conclusions were contrary to the furtherance of the discussion would I request to retract or rewrite.

1

If I were in your position, if I could infer from the referee's report the nature of the misunderstanding, and if that misunderstanding could be alleviated by adding just a few clarifying sentences to the paper, then I'd add those sentences. I'd tell the editor exacty what I had done: "I added sentences at page X line Y, to clarify a point that the referee might not have completely understood." I would also tell the editor that, if (s)he doesn't want me to add these sentences at this stage of the process, or if adding them would lead to the inconvenience of another round of refereeing, then I'd be willing to remove those sentences.

If, on the other hand, I can't tell what the referee misunderstood, or if alleviating the misunderstanding would take more than a few new sentences, then I'd leave it alone and just hope that not too many other readers join in the referee's misunderstanding.

In the preceding paragraph, "leave it alone" refers to the version of the paper that will be published. If you're in a field like mine (mathematics) where there's a good preprint server that just about everyone uses (the arXiv), then I might, if I can find the time, make whatever revisions, even substantial ones, I consider appropriate in light of the referee's misunderstanding, and I'd post that revised version on the arXiv.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.