One of the things I struggled with most as an early-career philosopher--and which I know many other early-career people struggle with too--is learning how to publish. I had several failed revise-and-resubmits at some highly ranked journals in graduate school, but finished my degree with no publications. For a while, I worried whether I would ever get one. Then, when I finally got my first one [in my first year post PhD], I worried whether I would ever get another one! And the early-going was hard. I got rejection after rejection, felt like I "didn't know what reviewers want", and it took me a couple of years to get another publication. Then, however, I slowly felt like I started to get the hang of it. I started getting more revise-and-resubmits, and more acceptances. While I admittedly haven't published with any top-20 journals [though I do have a book with a top-15 press], I do think I've learned some things about publishing that might help early-career people--especially grad students--who are struggling like I once did. So, I would like to share a few suggestions, as well as invite readers to share their own. Then, in my next post, I will talk a bit about revise-and-resubmits.
There is of course no fool-proof way to "referee proof" a paper. No paper is perfect. Most have problems, and depending on the referees one gets, whatever problems one's paper has may lead a referee to recommend rejection. Still, my overall experience--i.e. many years of referee comments, revise-and-resubmit verdicts, etc.--suggest two strategies for, all things being equal, increasing the likelihood of a favorable review [I say "all things being equal" because sometimes things aren't equal: sometimes one's paper just doesn't work, and no publishing strategies can help with that besides either improving the paper's argument on moving onto a different project!].
Anyway here is Suggestion #1: If there is any remotely foreseeable way that a reviewer could misunderstand your argument, be sure to preemptively address it.
Notice that I am not merely suggesting here addressing "potential objections"--something which most good papers should do [as there are almost always potential objections to one's argument worth addressing]. Rather, I am suggesting that as the paper proceeds, if there is any potential room for misunderstanding/misinterpretation, you should address it. Early in my career, I often found myself frustrated with reviewer comments that I thought misunderstood something I was really clear about. And I know I am not alone here. This is one of the most common complaints about reviewers that I have come across: complaints to the effect of, "my reviewer was incompetent. They interpreted me as saying P when I was clear that not-P." However, I think, as with most things, that adaptability is key. If you keep running into a problem professionally [i.e. referees misinterpreting things you think are clear], you are likely to make little headway unless you start to do something different.
Anyway, what happened to me over the years was that I started to see patterns--the general pattern being that if it is at all possible to misunderstand something in a paper, chances are someone [e.g. your reviewer, conference commentator] might do it. Please don't misunderstand me as implying that readers/referees are incompetent here. To the contrary [to head off a possible misunderstanding!], the more reviewing I've done, the more I've come to see how difficult it can sometimes be to interpret people's arguments correctly/charitably. Oftentimes, when we are reading or reviewing someone's else's paper, it is on a topic that lies in our AOS but deals with particular ideas that aren't our own central focus, and which the author is much more familiar with than oneself. Secondly, in my experience, what one person takes to be clear another person may read as unclear. In this regard, I think reading papers can be a bit like a person's handwriting: I can read my own handwriting with no problem at all--because it's mine, rendered in a way I easily understand and recognize. When someone else tries to read my handwriting, on the other hand, it sometimes seems like illegible "chicken-scratch" to them. In my experience, philosophy papers can be similar. It may seem entirely clear to you--but to an outside reader who has not been thinking about it the way you have for several years? They may struggle to interpret your claims the way you intend, even if you think you're clear--simply because they are a different person, with different preconceptions, ways of expressing themselves, etc., heading into reading the paper.
In any case, I have found the strategy of preempting as many potential misinterpretations as possible to be very helpful. I used to have a lot of experiences of "referees misinterpreting my argument." Now, it almost never happens--and I think it's because I try as far as possible, whenever I assert something important [P], to immediately head off potential misunderstandings, stating things like, "I want to be clear here that I am not saying not-P. Here is the difference between my claim and that alternative interpretation." For instance, I recently finished a paper whose central thesis I thought crystal clear. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that it was possible that someone might misunderstand it--either a result of poor reading, or my intent not being as clear as I thought it was--and that, in the past, previous papers had in fact been "misunderstood" in similar cases. Since, the more I've done this, the fewer "reviewer misunderstandings" I've encountered, it really seems to me to work, always addressing potential misunderstandings either in a few sentences in the body text or in footnotes [though I think body-text is better, as sometimes people miss footnotes].
Now, I imagine some authors might find this frustrating. Why, one might ask, does one have to preemptively address every possible route to misunderstanding? One obvious answer is that of course you don't have to--but, in my experience, not doing it may just make publishing harder. My experience, in other words, is that it simply helps one publish. But I also think it helps with more than that. I actually think it makes better papers. As long as one isn't terribly pedantic, going into each potential misunderstanding in excruciating detail [most potential misunderstandings, I think, can be addressed in a sentence or two], addressing potential understandings along the way can, in my experience, just be really helpful for readers. Indeed, I often have this experience as a reviewer [viz. "Ah, I'm glad the author addressed that, because it was sort of a worry I had"]. In other words, provided one doesn't go overboard with it [i.e. entire paragraphs addressing every possible misunderstanding], my experience is that brief interjections to preempt misunderstanding generally makes papers clearer and read better.
This brings me to Suggestion #2: Always preempt misunderstanding as soon as possible in the paper, i.e. the very moment in paper where you make the relevant claim[s], not later. Earlier in my career, when I was having more difficulty publishing, I did address potential misunderstandings, but only later in the paper, not at the very first mention of the potentially misunderstood idea in question. In some cases, I got reviewer comments where it didn't seem like they ever read the later clarification--and, in other cases, the reviewers said they understood the clarification, but thought it should have come sooner. Interestingly, these experiences cohere with experiences I have heard other people reporting [viz. "My reviewer said I didn't address P. But I did...on p.19]. The more I've gone along, the more it seems to me that one should never wait--not even a moment--to head off a potential misunderstanding: one should do it as soon as possible, namely, right after one presents whichever claim[s] might be misunderstood. If the claim that could be misunderstood is in your introduction, preempt it right there, not later (you may even return to it later in the paper just for good measure). Leaving it to later runs the risk of the reader reading much of the paper under the misunderstanding, and forming negative judgments about it, even if the paper ultimately comes back around to addressing it. This may or may not make the difference between acceptance or rejection [though again I have heard many authors complain that the reviewer "didn't read" where they counter the misunderstanding]--but, in my experience, it can make the difference between a revise-and-resubmit and an acceptance [earlier in my career, I had multiple instances of "revise and resubmit with major revisions" where some of the major revisions asked for were just that: preempting the "misunderstanding" much earlier in the paper.
Anyway, these are just a few suggestions that my experience--both as an author and reviewer--seems to me to support. Does your experience fit with/not fit with them? And what helpful publishing/"referee-proofing" suggestions, if any, do you have?