September 12, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Reviewer comments

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:35 am by dlseltzer

Recently, a reader shared a journal editor’s comments on an article that the journal wanted to publish if the suggested changes were made. The comments gave me pause, and I thought I would comment on them here.

An editor writes:

Referees’ comments:

Reviewer #2: This is an improved paper with the primary concern regarding methodology  well dealt with. A few tiny adjustments:

P 3: there ARE a lack of studies

p 3 ‘Our research study’ – tautology. remove the word ‘research.’

p 3: “people who lived in the hospital zip code ” – add AREA : people don’t live in a code!(also last line of p 4; lines 3 & 4 of p 5)

First, let me get my bottom line out of the way. You know what I am going to say. These ARE tiny changes, and I would absolutely make them and get the publication.

My first thought at seeing these ‘adjustments’ was that this reviewer has way too much time on his or her hands! Come on!

My second thought was that the reviewer is actually wrong (not that I would make a fuss—we want the publication after all).

Let’s look at the first ‘adjustment.’ I am assuming that the reviewer is requesting that the author change an ‘is’ to an ‘are.’ Well, that’s just wrong. It should be singular. Think of it this way (thank you, David):

The lack of studies in this area is a serious problem.

We want to agree with ‘lack’ not ‘studies.’ I would probably edit the sentence to talk about ‘research’ or ‘evidence’ so as not to confuse the reviewer who wants to use a plural verb:

There IS a lack of evidence…

There IS a lack of research…

The other possibility is to make the change and hope that the copy editor is a little more astute than the reviewer.

On to the second ‘adjustment.’

‘Our research study’ – tautology. remove the word ‘research.’

 A tautology, really?

A tautology is a redundancy. Merriam-Webster defines it as a:

‘needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word.’

One could argue (not me, of course, but someone who is prone to arguing) that ‘research study’ is not really a tautology because ‘research’ involves methodical or systematic investigation, and ‘study’ just involves examination or consideration.

But the major point here is that this such a minor issue, I am really surprised that the reviewer makes publication dependent upon this change. Way too much time on the reviewer’s hands.

And finally, the last ‘adjustment.’

“people who lived in the hospital zip code” – add AREA : people don’t live in a code!

Good heavens!

Okay, I’ll give the reviewer this. He or she is right, people don’t live in a code. But, come on, ‘area’ is implied, and we’ve all seen this formation a million times in peer-reviewed journals. For me, this falls into the ‘life is too short’ category. Sounds like a frustrated old English teacher to me. And since I happen to be an old English teacher (although not frustrated), I can say that. Way, way too much time.



  1. nickfielden said,

    On the tautology question, have you not proved the reviewer correct? Are not ‘investigation’ and ‘examination’ synonymous?

    Roget’s Thesaurus thinks so, placing the words alongside each other in my Penguin copy of Longmans’ 1962 edition.

    Nit-picking the reviewer may be, but on the evidence not in error.

    • dlseltzer said,

      The difference is that research involves systematic investigation. The key is systematic–research needs to be reproducible.

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