The Best Reviewer/Editor Comments You’ve Received


Last week people shared their horror stories on “The Worst Reviewer/Editor Comments You’ve Received“. But refereeing papers and editing journals is crucial and often underappreciated work, and, as some noted, sometimes the comments can be extremely helpful or encouraging or otherwise appreciated.

So we shouldn’t just focus on the negative. As one commenter suggested, “How about a post with ‘best’ comments from reviewers/editors received?” Good idea. Let’s hear ’em.

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Jack Woods
Jack Woods
2 years ago

This paper is great in every way and should be published as is. Here’s a few typos AU should fix.Report

Mark van Roojen
2 years ago

Many many years ago a couple of referees for Phil Review worked through several revisions of a paper that they eventually accepted. I’m sure it is a better paper because of their help and it is still my most cited paper that argues for a thesis (as opposed to gives an overview of a field as with an encyclopedia entry). I’m pretty sure one of the referees was Nick Sturgeon, given the venue and given the expertise involved.Report

Dale Miller
2 years ago

Of course my favorite comments are those that offer unreserved praise.But in terms of comments that most helped me improve a paper, the two sets of comments that I received on a paper on Charles Taylor’s political philosophy a number of years ago stand out. I’ve always believed that Richard Dagger was one of the reviewers; if I ever had a belief about who was the second, I forget. But both reports were models in terms of showing me that I had gotten something important wrong and seriously mischaracterized Taylor’s view (partly as a result of not having read enough papers that all seemed to be making the same fundamental point but contained some important variations). Both also helped me to see how this failure might be set right. The only problem for me was that the paper came out just after the communitarian wave crested, so whatever its technical merits it wasn’t really of interest to anyone.

The most interesting question might be about the best comments received as part of a rejection.Report

Instructor Gadget
Instructor Gadget
2 years ago

I got this last fall and was delighted:

“I think the argument is extremely suspicious and almost certainly goes wrong somewhere…. I think that a few revisions should be made, and that it should then be published.”Report

Junior Scholar
Junior Scholar
2 years ago

One of my first attempts at publishing was a short paper–about 3,200 words. One reviewer said the following: “This is an interesting and exciting paper on a provocative topic. As a reviewer, I would like to see it in print (and I think the readers of [this journal] would too). However, I think the paper would be much stronger if it were thoroughly re-worked and expanded. See attached for further comments.” The attached document had seven numbered bullet points and under each bullet point were extensive comments. In total this reviewer wrote 2,500 words worth of comments. And they were insightful and constructive. I was grateful for, and impressed by, the fact that the referee wrote almost as much in his/her comments as I did in the original paper. They certainly went above and beyond the call of duty.Report

Ian
Ian
2 years ago

The very first paper I got published began life as a very messy submission that probably deserved a desk rejection. Instead, it received patient, thoughtful, extremely thorough, and — crucially — kindly-put comments from two reviewers (in like a month!) that turned it into something I am proud of. They found the kernel of a good paper in the complete mess I submitted. Philosophy is more of a collaborative project than people sometimes realize.Report

Matteo
Matteo
2 years ago

“This paper is a most important one, perhaps even seminal”.
Too bad Reviewer 2 thought it wasn’t publishable.Report

A graduate student
A graduate student
2 years ago

I published a paper that received a revise & resubmit during the first round. One of my reviewers was critical of the paper. Their most insightful criticism was that the conclusion (as I presented it) focused too much on minor details in the literature, when the implications of my thesis could be presented in a different way to make a more general positive contribution to the literature. This reviewer recommended acceptance of my paper following my revisions in light of their criticism. The revisions that I made in light of this criticism made my paper far more interesting to a more general philosophical audience.Report

No-name ABD
No-name ABD
2 years ago

“Above all, I enjoyed this paper at least as much as any paper I have ever reviewed in the fifteen years I’ve been reviewing. Almost every page of my copy is covered in check-marks, “Yes!”es, even smiley faces.” The reviewer then proceeded to write three single-spaced pages worth of extremely helpful suggestions and critiques. It was disarmingly kind and deeply impactful.Report

Grad
Grad
2 years ago

I submitted my qualifying paper, which was a critique of X & Y’s interpretation of Z’s views, and the journal naturally sent the paper to X. It turns out that, while I’d given a pretty careful account of Z’s views, I’d given a very crass oversimplification of X & Y’s interpretation of them (partly through failing to read some of their work, and partly through misinterpreting their stuff that I did read); X would have had ample justification for recommending rejection. Instead, he praised the paper’s good aspects, corrected the misinterpretation and pointed me toward his other relevant work, encouraged me to reorient the paper as an interpretation of Z in my own voice, recommended a better structure for the paper to take toward that end, and highlighted where he took the remaining — deeper and more interesting — disagreements between his interpretation and mine to lie. The review was lengthy, meticulous, and much more generous than I had any right to expect. After I incorporated most all his suggested changes as best I could & an additional round of R&R, the paper was accepted in what I, anyway, take to be a vastly better condition than I initially submitted it in. I’m very grateful.Report

Bryan Frances
Bryan Frances
2 years ago

The best comments I have received were the ones that *showed* me precisely why my paper was just plain inadequate. They did two things: saved me from publishing subpar work, and revealed why the work was subpar. I didn’t get publications out of these experiences, but oh well.Report

Kevin Harrelson
Kevin Harrelson
2 years ago

I find peer review to be the most rewarding aspect of our profession (apart from being in the classroom with enthusiastic students!), as reviewer and author. I’d give an example of the best, but it’s too hard to choose. That one time someone said my paper was beautifully written and skillfully argues and should be published as is? Or the many more times reviewers offered help in at least rethinking the issue, even if it meant canning the paper. Even apparently unsympathetic reviews turn out, after six months or so, to be instructive when I go back to them.

I know some don’t see it this way, and I’m sorry for it.

I especially enjoy receiving respectful rejections from elite journals. These people treated my ideas – usually – with seriousness that they would be less likely to give if they knew the author was an unknown and uncouth first-gen who teaches at a regional college.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Kevin Harrelson
2 years ago

This.

My first attempt at publishing was at the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science – as a second year grad student (a paper on Mellor on probability). Within one month, I had reports from 2 reviewers who had clearly read the paper, took the ideas seriously, and intelligently laid out the weaknesses (and thus a rejection). Frankly, it was probably the first time I really felt like a philosopher.Report

Steven French
Steven French
Reply to  ajkreider
2 years ago

Really pleased to read this!Report

Steven DeLay
Steven DeLay
2 years ago

Not exactly from an anonymous reader, but from a reader whose own work has been a philosophical and personal inspiration to me: “I wouldn’t change a word.”Report

Ben Lennertz
2 years ago

After submitting my third (third!) revised version of a paper, still unable to shake off an intransigent referee, I got help from a third referee with this gem: “In addition, I think the author has also successfully addressed the second referee’s concerns / war of terror on the semantics-pragmatics interface.” More seriously, the comments from that reviewer and another were fantastic.Report

Mark van Roojen
Reply to  Ben Lennertz
2 years ago

Another good features of journals letting you see the other reports – you can figure out whether your own comments exacerbate or help with responses to comments by the other referees. This is especially useful when you can tell you are being called in late in the process after the author has already revised to meet earlier comments. It helps to know what those comments were.Report

Steven French
Steven French
2 years ago

I recently received an outstanding report that not only gave me lots of positive encouragement (I was beginning to doubt the project after reading the less than positive comments of the Dreaded Second Referee) but also, as in many of the cases already listed here, set out a series of hugely constructive criticisms and suggestions that will undoubtedly improve the manuscript enormously. That someone would take the time and effort to do that, for so little obvious reward, really did warm the cockles …!Report

Lee Walters
2 years ago

An excellent, constructive, and knowledgeable reviewer for Nous wrote of paper of mine on non-extensional mereology that it was more than the sum of its parts.Report

François Kammerer
François Kammerer
2 years ago

Recently I received a report (for a paper defending a non-mainstream position) including the sentence: “I found this paper ingenious, persuasive, and quite possibly true.” It recommended acceptance, and also included some helpful remarks/objections.

I really liked reading that very sentence, partly because it was a praise (of course!), but mostly because of the use of the adjective “true”. We philosophers are certainly in search for truth, but I feel like we rarely use it to qualify theses put forth by others (at least when they are no mainstream). So, when it happened to me, I was genuinely happy. If by chance my reviewer reads that: thanks, you made my day!Report

Hilary Kornblith
Hilary Kornblith
2 years ago

I received exceptionally helpful comments from the Philosophical Review on a paper I sent them very early in my career. The paper went through two rounds of revisions, and I was terrified that I would squander my chance to have my paper appear in that journal, but it all turned out well for me. The comments were particularly constructive, and they made the paper far better than it would have been without the revisions. I had a good experience of a different kind, also many years ago, at the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, when I had a paper turned down with a detailed set of comments that provided me with a much-needed education. And finally an experience of still a third sort at Nous, when Bill Lycan was editor. This was in the days when one submitted a hard copy of one’s paper, and two pages of my paper must have stuck together without my noticing it when I xeroxed it for submission to the journal. I got a note from Bill which said, “I enjoyed reading your paper. Given what happens on pages 12 and 14, something quite interesting must go on on page 13. If you would send that along, I’d be happy to have the paper reviewed.”Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
2 years ago

Maurice Goldsmith once sent me the following editorial comment after accepting a paper of mine for AJP. “I was surprised to learn that Judith Thomson was a medieval philosopher.” He didn’t elaborate on what he meant, and I was really puzzled. Then I looked at the bibliography of my submission, and I saw that I cited a paper of hers from 1383.Report

Eden Lin
Eden Lin
2 years ago

I’m still amazed that a reviewer wrote this about a paper of mine, but they did:

“This is a terrific paper. It’s about an active and central debate in ethics: welfare or well-being. It presents a very sophisticated conceptual overview of the philosophical options within this domain, and especially of the subjectivist options that will be its targets. To my knowledge, it presents the first paper-length discussion of the important issue of the plausibility of theories of welfare when applied to neonate human beings. It also argues powerfully for the ambitious thesis that (almost) all extant forms of subjectivism about welfare are implausible on this important issue. I’ve reviewed many papers in the philosophy of well-being, which is my own field. This is the best paper in that field that I’ve ever reviewed.”

They then made a number of constructive suggestions (though they stressed that the paper was publishable as-is), and they ended their report with this:

“Let me conclude by saying it was a pleasure and a considerable learning experience to review this paper of yours. Thank you.”Report