Preparing a Manuscript for Anonymous Review

A nuts and bolts type post about best practices:

The submission process for most journals includes the request that the author prepare their submission for anonymous review. This step ensures that referees, and editors in triple anonymous reviewed journals, can’t discover the identity of the author simply by reading the submission.

While some aspects of preparing a manuscript for blind review are universally known (e.g., delete your name from the first page), many are not. And for some aspects, there may be disagreement about best practices. So how should you prepare your manuscript, aside from the obvious step of removing your name from the paper?

Acknowledgements: Many authors include acknowledgements or thanks to those who helped them in their papers, perhaps as a first or last footnote. These should be entirely deleted, and replaced with something that indicates they were removed, like “Acknowledgments removed”. But in my view this should also include any time an individual is recognized as contributing to the paper throughout. You might want to thank a person at a particular point in the paper, rather than general acknowledgements. Those should be edited as well. Even such remarks as “Jane Smith pointed out to me in conversation . . .” should be edited, in my view, since such remarks may inadvertently cause the reader to discover your identity. (Some sub-disciplines are small, and now the referee knows that the author is not Jane Smith, for example.) Something as simple as “[Name removed] pointed out to me in conversation . . .” works well.

Document Properties: Word processing software often automatically, perhaps without even your knowledge, include your name, institution, email or other identifying marks in the meta-data of the file you submit. You can find this information in the document properties. For example, open a Microsoft Word document that you created on your computer, go to file>properties, and you may see this information. If it’s there, it’s easy to delete, and preparing your submission for anonymous review should include this step. (The way to delete these properties, and the ease with which it can be done, differs from software to software.) In spite of including specific instruction to authors to check for this information, probably half of the submissions to Res Philosophica include them. (We had to set up a process where the Editorial Manager checks for this, before sending the submission to the Editor.)

Self-citation: Often you want to cite your own prior work. Indeed, in research projects, you are often building on previous work, and so you need to cite your own work. But for anonymous review you have to anonymize those references. Standardly, this is done as I suggested above for acknowledgements. So instead of “As I argue in Jacobs 2011 . . .”, you would have “As I argue in [citation removed] . . .” Again, though, doing it this way, especially in a small sub-field, can often lead to the author being identified by the referee, since the referee knows, for example, that all the authors who are named in the submission’s bibliography are not the author of the submission. (I’ve even seen bibliographies that leave the author’s own entries in alphabetical order, but with the details deleted, so that it’s clear the author’s last name begins with, say, “M”.)

In light of this, it seems to me that there is a better way to handle self-citation: Edit the paper so as to not use first person in self-citation contexts. So instead of changing “As I argue in Jacobs 2011 . . .” to “As I argue in [citation removed] . . .”, you would change it to “As Jacobs (2011) argues . . .” This does require a bit more editing on the part of the author, but it does seem to avoid the worries that simply deleting the author’s name raises. It’s not perfect, but initially I’m inclined to think it’s the best way to handle self-citation.

What do you think? Is that the best way to handle self-citation? Are there other issues to think about when preparing a manuscript for blind review?

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4 thoughts on “Preparing a Manuscript for Anonymous Review

  1. Sara L. Uckelman

    RE: document properties — yet another point in favor of preparing your manuscript in LaTeX. No metadata!

    As for self-citation, unless there is a specific reason why the reader needs to know that it is the current author who is the source of the argument/logical framework/relevant earlier work, etc., the easiest way is to write the paper from the start without “I”. “We build on the framework of [citation]”, “For further information the reader is directed to [citation]”, “It has previously been argued in [citation]”.

    If you write your paper from the start with this sort of anonymization, you’re much less likely to miss a tell-tale citation when anonymizing your manuscript before submission.

    Reply
  2. ccohoe

    I agree with Sara’s advice about avoiding “I” statements in citations from the start. I wonder, however, about citing one’s own forthcoming or (very recently) published work. Should such citations be removed for blind review since they are strong clues about the identity of the author or are they fine (since you might have seen someone else’s forthcoming work)?

    Reply
    1. jdjacobs Post author

      I think it’s common enough to share papers or post them online these days that citing one’s own forthcoming work in the third person is not problematic.

      Reply
  3. elisafreschi

    As a peer-reviewer: sometimes I could not avoid understanding who the author was because he quoted (in the third-person form) plenty of his own work, although it was not directly relevant (almost 50% of all titles were his own works). A further reason to avoid this practice of self-advertising (if it has no other relevance to the current paper).

    Reply

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