What are the next steps if my academic paper is rejected?

Preparing and submitting academic papers is a big investment of time and intellectual effort. When you work hard on a paper, it is often discouraging to receive the news that it has been rejected. However, it is important to remember that more papers are rejected than the number accepted. The work you put into your paper submission is not wasted; think about this as a part of the academic publishing journey and use any feedback received for the next version of the paper. Don’t take the rejection as an indication that the research in your study is not of value. The questions and answers that follow can help you decide what next steps to take with your paper.

Question: What are the typical reasons articles are rejected?

Answer: There are many reasons why papers are rejected. Some of these reasons are:

 The paper was not a good fit for the journal. Generally, the editor will respond without forwarding for peer review if the article does not seem like a good fit. They will generally provide you with a reason why they decided that your paper was not a good fit which will help inform you decision when submitting the paper to a different journal.

 There were substantive issues with some areas of the paper. For example, the reviewers might indicate that the methodology chosen was not appropriate for the research questions posed, or that the discussion of findings did not reflect the reported results.

 The contribution that this article would make to the field is not evident. The reviewers might determine that the research study does not add new knowledge to the field and therefore is not an article they wish to publish. They might also decide that the research conducted was not original.

 There is evidence of plagiarism. If plagiarism is detected, either through a review of the manuscript that reveals for example that more than 15% of the text is similar to other work, or through recognition of work that was previously published by you or another researcher, this will likely lead to a decision to reject.

 There are too many writing errors. The prevalence of grammatical and spelling errors, or English language errors is too high and interferes with the flow of the paper.

Question: What should I do if my article is rejected?

Answer: If you receive a decision from the editor that the paper is not a good fit for the journal, then typically the best next step is to re-evaluate which other journals you can submit to. Try to understand why your article was not a good fit: most editors will provide you with an explanation of how they came to this decision. If the reasons for rejection are based on substantive issues that arose during the review process, take some time to look at these carefully and think about what they might mean for submitting your paper elsewhere. It is better not to just try to submit to another journal without first attempting to address these substantive issues. Seek some expert feedback on your paper, as written, together with the reviewers’ comments, and see if you can strengthen the areas of the paper that were seen as weak or not fully developed. Go back through and make sure that the research questions, data collection techniques, data analyses, results and discussion all align and flow coherently. If the rejection is based on errors in writing or on an incorrect use of English language, then seek support to correct them. You can use a professional service to help you with editing your paper to revise these areas. It may be that your study is not yet ready for article publication, and perhaps you need to expand it. Or perhaps your current research would be more appropriate for publication as a research-in-progress brief, or for presentation at a conference.

Question: What does a decision that states ‘reject with resubmission possible’ mean?

Answer: A ‘reject and resubmit’ decision is similar to a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision. This decision typically indicates that the editor saw potential value in the topic or idea for your article but does not believe that it has been fully developed yet, either conceptually or in writing. You could decide at this stage to resubmit to a different journal, and not commit to a revision. However, resubmitting a revised and more fully developed paper is generally the better option, especially if you have received this decision from a top-tier journal. Get expert advice on how to approach a revision of the paper and whether you need to firstly further develop your research study.

Question: Can a journal reject a paper without an explanation?

Answer: Yes, this can happen. An article can be rejected by an editor without being forwarded for peer-review and without an explanation as to why. Generally however, top-tier journals will provide a reason for rejecting the article, although some may not provide an explanation that helps you to decide your next steps. For example, an editor might suggest it does not fit within the scope of the journal without stating why, or simply say that the paper is academically unacceptable.

Question: Can I appeal to the journal editor against the decision of the article reviewers?

Answer: While you can appeal to the journal editor against a rejection decision, it is rarely successful. If you are going to appeal you will need to be able to make a strong case for why you are appealing and what you believe makes the decision worth reconsidering. If the article was rejected because the editor does not consider it to be a good fit for the journal, then the best approach would be to consider submitting to another journal. If you strongly believe that shortcomings that the editor or reviewers noted with the article could be overcome, you could appeal and ask for a ‘reject with option for resubmission’ decision. Again, you must be able to fully explain how you believe these shortcomings could be addressed. In most cases it will be more advisable to consider selecting another journal to submit your paper to, or to conduct further research to more fully address your research questions.

Question: Can a chief editor of a journal publish an article despite reviewers recommending it be rejected?

Answer: While the chief editor can accept a paper despite reviewers recommending the paper be rejected, this is not a common occurrence. Sometimes an editor may determine that there is a problem with one reviewer's comments, perhaps deciding they are too stringent or not enough time was dedicated to the review. But since there are generally multiple reviewers of a paper, it would be unusual for these issues to arise across reviewers. On the other hand, the chief editor might see some potential in the paper and decide that the response should be ‘revise and resubmit’ instead of a flat rejection.

Question: Will a manuscript be accepted if it still needs more work after the second round of revision?

Answer: This can happen. Authors sometimes engage in more than two rounds of revision before a paper is accepted. Typically, a journal editor would make the decision to reject an article if there were still significant and substantive changes needed after two rounds of review and revision, and at this point appealing such a decision is highly unlikely to be successful. Having invested time in rounds of revision and review, journal editors do not make the decision to reject lightly. They are invested in publishing the article if the shortcomings can be addressed. So, if an editor does reject at this point in the process, they generally have a good reason for doing so and have carefully considered their decision.

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