Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. I coordinate blind peer review for an academic journal that deals with the humanities and the sciences. Often reviewers recommend to the authors a clearer way to phrase the authors’ ideas. Some authors worry that adopting the reviewers’ exact wording would be plagiarism, but when these authors try a brand-new phrasing, I find it has the very problems the reviewer wants fixed. I’m inclined to think that, if something is published in a peer-reviewed journal, one should assume that matters like phrasing (and discovery of sources and objections) will include some contributions from reviewers, but what advice should I give scrupulous authors? Thank you.

A. Authors routinely implement suggestions from their copyeditors on how to phrase a particular idea for maximum clarity and effectiveness. A similar suggestion from a peer reviewer would fall into roughly the same category. Neither scenario would constitute plagiarism.

Still, authors should acknowledge their debts to others for any idea that isn’t purely trivial. A suggestion from a peer reviewer can be credited in a note—for example, “The author would like to thank an anonymous peer reviewer for raising a key objection to her initial hypothesis and for suggesting the phrase ‘biometric apparition.’ ”