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Reasons for Desk Rejection – and how to avoid it

As soon as a journal receives a manuscript, the editorial review process begins. While authors hope their submissions will receive (and survive) peer review, a sizeable percentage of papers do not even make it that far, becoming victims of desk rejection.

Desk rejection explained

Desk rejection (also known as summary review, pre-review, editorial triage or similar terms) refers to rejection before a paper is sent out for peer review. To a certain degree, the initial desk review of submissions is often made by editors who are typically very busy individuals with multiple demands on their time. They may be able to give each manuscript only 3–4 minutes of their time before making a decision to either reject or send out for review. Depending on the journal, 40%–75% of submitted manuscripts receive desk rejection. 

Reasons for desk rejection

1. Submitting a topic that is outside the scope of the journal 

Submitting such a paper typically represents a lack of preparation on the part of the author. Unsurprisingly, it receives a desk rejection decision. However, if the topic is not ‘too far outside the scope’ and the journal belongs to a large family of journals, the editor may suggest submitting to a sister/family journal instead, in a practice known as journal transfer or transfer cascade. Either way, your article cannot proceed further at the initial journal.

2. Not preparing or presenting well the title page and abstract

First impressions (based upon the first few pages) matter when it comes to manuscript submissions. Your paper is likely to have a short lifespan in the editorial office if it displays any of the following traits:

  • Looks like it was quickly put together
  • Contains spelling errors, or a vaguely worded or sloppily prepared abstract
  • Sports a poorly articulated or missing hypothesis statement

3. Including poor quality figures or unclear data tables

The first element that many editors (as well as reviewers) look at after the title and abstract are the tables and figures.

  • Low-quality images and poorly executed illustrations may have a paper rejected outright or sent back for immediate, pre-review improvement.
  • Confusing, unclear tables which obscure or complicate data rather than make results clear can easily sour an editor towards a paper. 

4. Not following the Information for Authors (Author Guidelines)

This includes:

5. Inadequate or improperly formatted references

Scanty, inaccurate or ill-prepared references may result in a desk rejection.

6. Incorrectly using English language and grammar

Many scientific papers from international authors that may otherwise have genuine merit are rejected because their ideas are not phrased in proper English. 

Tips for avoiding desk rejection

1. Submit papers that address scientifically significant topics

Groundbreaking research, reports on highly relevant or significant topics and prospective studies involving research with large datasets that provide highly conclusive results are much more likely to be reviewed rather than single case reports, studies which supply confirming data or manuscripts with inconclusive research.

2. Deliver a high-quality, well-prepared manuscript

Pay careful attention to all details in your paper. Don’t give the editorial office or editors any reason to reject the paper because of cosmetic, formatting or language usage errors. If you ‘sweat the details’, you stand a good chance of seeing your paper move deeper into the review process.

3. Review your paper for the language

Related to the above, if English is not your first language and you are submitting to an English language journal, ask a native English speaker (or editing service) to go over the paper before submission.

4. Provide an adequate and properly formatted reference section

It’s important to sufficiently document the academic literature that serves as a foundation for your current paper. (If needed, learn more about our Reference Formatting Service.)

5. (For the long term) Be professional in your response to the journal’s decision

Over the course of your career, you will probably develop relationships with editors and editorial offices from many journals. From the outset, endeavour to develop, and then make a habit out of regularly cultivating, healthy, honest and professional relationships with them. If you receive a journal’s criticism without reacting emotionally, learn from the journal’s advice and show growth as an author and scientist, you will develop strong professional long-term relationships with them. When those relationships are forged, the rate of desk rejection of your submissions will be minimised or cease altogether. Why? Because you will have become a good author, submitting good papers! [If interested, read more here: How to handle (and even benefit from) article rejection]


Although many submissions do receive desk rejection, it need not be an inevitable outcome for you. By following the above guidelines, you can increase the chances that your papers will undergo a full peer review and will be evaluated for the merits of your research.


Read next/final (third) in series: Reasons for Peer Review Rejection – and how to avoid it

Read previous (first) in series: Avoiding Common Mistakes that lead to Journal Rejection



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