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Mark Alfano

Both important questions.

On 1: I mostly agree with Marcus on this. At the very least, you need to respond to everything the referees say, and you should mostly do what they ask for. Here are some reasons. First, even if the objection is misguided, uncharitable, or just plain stupid, it's likely that other readers will think of it if you don't respond. So, since you always want to respond to potential objections in your argumentation, you want to respond to this. Second, the referee is the gate-keeper; getting his/her acceptance is just how the game is played. Third, unless you are very persuasive, you probably won't be able to convince the editor that you're right and the referee is wrong. After all, the editor chose the referee as a competent judge of the work, so he/she would have to admit that he/she made an incorrect choice when picking the referee. All that said, I myself recently convinced an editor that 1 (out of about 10) of a referee's comments was so off-base that I shouldn't modify the paper to respond to it. But I only tried that because I would have been embarrassed to have anyone read the version of the paper that the referee was requesting.

On the second question, I imagine Marcus is right that it mostly depends on how much teaching you have and what other responsibilities (e.g. children, elderly parents, second job) are on your plate. While I was in grad school, I worked three jobs (teaching 2 courses a semester, tutoring high-schoolers for the SAT, and running my online test-prep company, Lumina Prep), so I just squeezed in dissertation research whenever I could -- often in the wee hours. During the last couple years, I've been very lucky to have had research fellowships that relieve me of teaching obligations, so I try to put in 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, on outright research, and then 3 or 4 more a day on other academic stuff (sitting in on seminars, learning statistics, writing grant proposals, setting up collaborative work).

Dan Cavedon-Taylor

I also think Marcus gives good advice. If a referee raises a point that seems wide of the mark, I think one ought to at least look back at the argument/claim being criticised to see if one can make it clearer. (Presumably, if the referee has recommended R+R they have, hopefully, understood most of the paper?) This won't work in all cases, e.g., if a referee says "why haven't you discussed S's work/argument?" and S's work/argument has nothing to do with yours. I think in that kind of case, you have to push back.

I've managed to push back without any problem in cases of conditional acceptance. How successful one will be in doing so probably depends on whether the suggested revisions are minor or major. Also, I've been issued an R+R when one referee wanted unconditional acceptance and the other wanted major revisions (or so I'm told, the second report looked more like it would support a verdict of rejection). In that kind of case, I think things become trickier. The report of rejection, or even major revisions, probably carries more weight with the editors than does the one urging acceptances. So one should still err on the side of deference.

I'm wary of addressing referee points by adding footnotes. I know the view among some is that it is lazy to use footnotes to placate referees. I don't know if I'd go so far as to agree with that sentiment. I've certainly used footnotes for this in the past, but I think on reflection I'd rather have incorporated the changes into the main body of the text.


Dan--could you (or somebody else) clarify the objection to using footnotes to respond to referee points? I tend to write in such a way that responding to extraneous points would break up the flow of the argument. So unless referee comments are clearly germane and addressing them actually contributes to that flow, it seems like footnotes are the best way to deal with them.


One thing should be mentioned here: it's not at all guaranteed that your reply to the referees actually ever reaches the referees. I've often had the experience that an R&R goes to completely new referees, not the ones who originally reviewed the paper. In that case the new referees might or might not see your replies, but in any case are unlikely to give as much thought to them as the original referee would have. I find this to be a major flaw in the refereeing system, especially when editors almost never tell you whether your replies will go to the same referees or not!

Marcus Arvan

Tuomas: I agree wholeheartedly. It is a major problem. It shouldn't be the case that after you've gone through all the time associated with an R&R (time for initial review, time for revisions, and time for a second review) that your revisions can go to an entirely new set of reviewers who may or may not give a damn. I think it's unconscionable. I think the practice should be abandoned. Either the original reviewers should get the paper or, if they refuse to review it again, the editor should decide whether you answered their worries and make a final editorial decision themselves.

Dan Cavedon-Taylor

Hi Roman,

I think some believe it is lazy to address referee points in footnotes. I am increasingly coming round to the view that footnotes unnecessarily bloat papers and are often distracting. Now it may bloat a paper to break up the flow of argumentation by addressing referee points in the main body of the paper. One thing I have done recently is addressed referees' points at the end of the section of the paper in which the allegedly problematic claims of mine occur. That way you avoid breaking up the flow of argumentation. But I guess if you view the referee points as extraneous to begin with, you probably won't be enamored by this strategy!

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