Random Acts of Kindness Day: Thanking Anonymous Reviewers

kindness 2Taking to Twitter this morning as usual, I discovered that today is Random Acts of Kindness Day (aka #RandomActsOfKindnessDay). My first thought was bah, just one day? One out of 365 (or even 366 in this leap year)? That’s rubbish; let’s commit random acts of kindness EVERY day!

Then I got an email from one of my editors. She had recently sent me three excellent anonymous manuscript reviews: engaged, thoughtful, really helpful to me in improving the text. It seems so unfair that they have to be anonymous; I wish I could credit them by name. I wrote a short email to each reviewer to thank them which I included in an email to my editor with a request that she forward them on. This morning she replied:

Thanks too for sending your responses to the reviewers, which I will send on.  I’ve never been asked to do this before and think it’s a lovely thing to do, especially when peer review can be quite a fraught process…

My editor has been working in academic publishing for almost 20 years. And she has never been asked to do this before.

I have always written thank-you emails to manuscript reviewers, and where possible to reviewers of journal articles. These are people who have spent hours, perhaps even days, helping me to improve my work for no recognition whatsoever. I know this is how academia works, but it seems to me simple human courtesy to say thank you.

I say ‘always’ and that’s not quite true. There was the time I got a manuscript review which was only half a page long and with nothing I could use. Some journals seem to have no way for people to get in touch other than the automated online submission system. I know some people get destructively critical or even abusive reviews, though luckily for me I haven’t had those. Whenever I can and it’s merited – which in my experience it almost always is – I say thank you.

Why don’t other people do this? If it’s just ‘not done in academia’ then that’s reason no. 48367 why I’m glad I’m an independent researcher. I honestly thought everyone would be doing it. Though if I’d given it proper thought, I’d have realised I’ve never had a ‘thank you’ from an author whose work I’ve reviewed anonymously…

So anyway, it turned out I did a random act of kindness today without even realising. But how about we make it not random? If you’ve recently benefited from anonymous peer review, can you find a way to send a short thank-you note to your reviewer?

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6 thoughts on “Random Acts of Kindness Day: Thanking Anonymous Reviewers

  1. My understanding is that the thank yous to reviewers are done more formally, in the acknowledgements of a book or in a footnote of a journal article. This is not a personal thank you but I don’t think the labour of reviewers is unacknowledged.

    It would also be interesting to know how publishers and journal editors thank their reviewers, or if this has been a largely depersonalised process at that level, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do the acknowledgements thing too. But it seems courteous to send a more timely message – it only takes a few minutes. For article reviews, I get thank-you emails from journal editors. For books, it’s usually a small monetary payment or a slightly larger value of books from the publisher’s list.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your generous way of thanking reviewers. You are a model for others.
    I thank anonymous reviewers in the acknowledgements in my publications. However, many authors of journal articles do not do this, as you can see by looking through articles in refereed journals, and I know from seeing the published versions of articles I’ve reviewed.
    In my own reviews I waive anonymity and say I am open to corresponding with the author, as described in “Writing a helpful referee’s report” (https://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/08jspwhrr.html). As a result, for years I’ve received messages from authors thanking me for my review of their paper.
    More power to your efforts to encourage expressing scholarly gratitude.
    Brian Martin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Brian for your characteristically thoughtful comment. I do the acknowledgements thing too (should have said so in my post!) and I always want to waive anonymity for reviews though sometimes editors/publishers won’t let me. But I do when I can, for the same reason; so authors can get back to me if something isn’t clear to them or they want further discussion. Scholarly gratitude for the win! And thanks, too, for the link; I’ve shared it on Twitter.

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  3. Thanks for that link Brian, really useful, and for the thoughtful article Helen.

    When I’m reviewing, I usually start my review with ‘Thank you for the opportunity to review this thoughtful/interesting/whatever paper’. If it’s my paper that’s under review, and I get the opportunity to revise and resubmit, I always start my response with ‘I would like to thank the reviewers for their thoughtful/considered/whatever comments on the original version of this paper’.

    I’ve never asked an editor to send a specific separate message to reviewers though, and I’ve never asked to waive the right to anonymity. I wonder whether that’s something that comes more easily with experience or time on the job? I remember doing my very first reviews, and I was terrified of saying something too obvious, or not noticing that a fundamental area of literature was missing or something. I think I valued anonymity very much then – I would have been far too intimidated to provide any feedback to someone far more experienced otherwise.

    I might feel differently now though, and this has prompted me to think a little more about that, so thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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