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Who to thank in acknowledgments?

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In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

This may be a silly question with an obvious answer, idk. Suppose you get (lengthy) comments on your draft that haven’t changed your draft in any way. The comments are of the nature “what is the implication on this and that” that seeks to extend the discussion. Should you thank them for their comments? What is the norm here?

Suppose also that some of the commentators are big names in the area. I think this should not matter for the answer, but maybe it does for practical purposes?

Thanks in advance!

Good questions. Another reader, Tam, submitted the following reply:

I believe that the done thing is to thank anyone who gave you comments even if you don’t change the draft at all in light of them and even if they are totally useless. And regardless of whether it is indeed the done thing, it is the prudent thing, since omitting the person’s name could offend them while as far as I can tell it costs you nothing at all to include them. Anyway, many acknowledgements take the form, “I am very grateful to X, Y, and Z for their comments on earlier drafts of this article”. So you don’t even have to be on record claiming that you changed the paper.

This seems like good advice to me. However, my own approach is even a bit more inclusive than this. I try to thank anyone who in any plausible way “helped the paper come to fruition”, where this is understood in the broadest possible sense. So, in the OP’s case, even if the lengthy comments someone provided didn’t change the paper in any way, that person still helped: they read the paper and provided comments! Similarly, if I have a helpful conversation with someone, or if someone asks a really good series of questions at a conference, I may single them out for thanks even if they didn’t read the paper, and of course I may also thank the broader conference audience too, as many people do. These have always just seemed like kind (and appropriate) things to do. Of course, I suppose an acknowledgement section could become overly long with this approach, but that’s never been an issue for me. As for thanking “big names”, I’ve heard anecdotally that people may do this a form of signaling, but whatever may be the case, if the person in question actually helped the paper come to fruition in any meaningful way, then it seems to me appropriate to thank them.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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