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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Referees'''' reports

A commenter a LOOOOONG time ago left the following:
Tell me, Gasarch, how in the world do you get your papers published when you consistently skip the apostrophe in it's and that's? Do referees notice these things anymore, or are you simply careless in blogs.
This commenter unintentionally raised some good questions:
  1. Do referees notice these things anymore... This indicates that there was a time when referees were real referees, and men were real men, and women were real women, and little blue fuzzballs from alpha-8 were real little blue fuzzballs from alpha-8. Was there such a time? Or is this is really case of nostalgia for a time that never was? If anything I think referees are more demanding of changes then in a past time since they know that with word processors such changes are easy to make.
  2. What should referees look for? Ian Parberry has a good paper on this that is linked to from our website. Informally, here is what I think the order should be (1) Are the results true/important/interesting?` (2) Are they well presented? See next item for expansion on (2).
  3. Being well presented also has a priority ordering: (1) Are the results well motivated? (2) Are the proofs presented in a way that the reader can see the intuition? (3) Grammar. (4) Spelling. (5) Apostrophes.
  4. A referee's job is not just to accept or reject a paper. Its also to offer advice on a paper to make it better
Are referees now more demanding than they used to be? less? This splits into many questions: concern with truth, importance, interest, motivation, intuition, grammar, spelling, apostrophes. I do not claim to know the answers.

14 comments:

  1. "Being well presented also has a priority ordering: (1) Are the results well motivated? (2) Are the proofs presented in a way that the reader can see the intuition? (3) Grammar. (4) Spelling. (5) Apostrophes."

    One comment about this ordering. I agree with it, but I think it is important to have in mind that some people who read your papers have not English as mother tongue (my case ;-)). Therefore, it may be more difficult to understand when there are some grammar or spelling mistakes or when you omit some apostrophes. It is easy for native English speakers but it is not if your English is "not so good".

    Moreover, I think that doing lots of grammar or spelling mistakes, or omitting apostrophes is mainly due to some laziness (you don't want to work to much on that uninteresting part that is the grammar and you prefer to work more on maths and clearness of explanations, and I agree!). But I think it is unfair for non English native speakers that have to do much more efforts than you to write their articles in as good an English as possible.

    Thanks for us in advance ;-)

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  2. The really frustrating part is - as a referee - when you spend a lot of your time explaining how to fix all the mistakes in usage, grammar, spelling, etc. to make the paper clearer - and the authors simply disregard what you recommend.

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  3. We now have automated spell checkers so authors should be expected to do better at this, though ispell is not going to separate its from it's.

    It would be nice to have a grammar checker for latex that is as good as for Word, especially to catch those missing or duplicated words I never seem to find when I proofread my own paper.

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  4. I don't think this ever was the job of the referee, except in instances where the quality of the writing is so consistently bad that it makes the paper difficult to read. Instead, journals used to employ copyeditors to catch such things in the stage between the acceptance of the authors' final version and the galley proofs. Maybe some of them still do, but fewer, so that authors are now expected either to be their own copyeditors or to come across as uneducated and sloppy.

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  5. GOOD POINT- YES, a referee's
    job is NOT to clean up grammar and such. If the paper really does need massive cleanup then I ask the editor to return it to the author and have it proofread far better.

    However, on points of intuition, motivation, presentation, the referee can help the paper more readable.
    Is that the referees JOB?
    I had thought so.
    I still think so but realize that the issue may be debatable.
    Or HOW MUCH to help might be debatable.

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  6. I am of the opinion that if your theorems are worth presenting at all, then they should be presented nicely. A sloppily written paper does not look scholarly and may raise doubts about whether the author(s) are equally sloppy/lazy in their mathematical proofs or literature search.

    The really frustrating part is - as a referee - when you spend a lot of your time explaining how to fix all the mistakes in usage, grammar, spelling, etc. to make the paper clearer - and the authors simply disregard what you recommend.

    Personally I have been fortunate to have referees who took the time to correct my grammatical or word usage mistakes, as well as to suggest more important changes. I appreciate the hard work of these anonymous referees, and can't imagine how a serious author could ignore corrections.

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  7. Also, do referees correct your abundance of upper case words?

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  8. In my papers I DO NOT USE CAPITOL LETTERS. Also, when I leave comments on other blogs I will STOP USING CAPITOL LETTERS since in two cases they caused the comment to be spam blocked.

    But I AGREE with the notion that papers when submitted should be grammatically correct and everyting spelled right. It may surprise you to know that my papers ARE like that.

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  9. CAPITOL? Really?

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  10. For what it is worth: when I review papers, with <= 5 mistakes per page, I list language mistakes. With more, I assume the authors couldn't be bothered, so I can't be, either. Then, I simply write: "There are too many mistakes for me to list. Please be sure to proofread your paper more carefully in preparing a final version or resubmission."

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  11. @last anon. that's a cool attitude to have. i like it.

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  12. I have different standards for journal and conference publications. When reviewing conference submissions, acceptance is determined by the content of the paper. I always provide a list of suggestions on the writing/grammar if warranted, and can be quite detailed. I would only consider rejection if the writing is so poor that the contribution cannot be understood.

    For journals, competent writing is expected, and it is not unreasonable to request minor revisions or even major revisions for submissions that are difficult to read. Good writing skills are worth the effort, but good ideas are the primary goal.

    For researchers which are not native English speakers, just conveying the ideas clearly can be challenging, and it takes many years of effort to develop any real mastery.

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  13. Somehow I would think that Bill spends more time writing his papers than his blog. As for capital versus capitol, he lives near DC where there is a Capitol in the Capital. He probably doesn't think your comments are worth doing anything more than letting muscle memory decide which to use. Frankly, neither do I and if I weren't bored of it all I would not be bothering to feed the trolls.

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  14. @last anon, i don't think this was bill who actually wrote this. Someone else trying to poke fun at us probably pretended it was him ...
    bill is too cool for letting his readers down. take mah word for this.

    anyhow, i really hope someone gets the coloring grid solution for this problem. can it be that hard ? bill, any progress ?

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