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Reasons for Peer Review Rejection – and how to Avoid it

As you may have read in the article on desk rejection, depending on the journal, between 40%–75% of submitted manuscripts receive desk rejection. Those 25%–60% of manuscripts that make the initial cut are then sent out for peer review. So, how can an author avoid or at least reduce their chance of rejection at this stage? To answer this, let’s begin by looking at common reasons for peer review rejection.

Reasons for peer review rejection

a. Insufficient scientific significance

  • Many excellent, elegantly prepared submissions are rejected because they provide only confirmatory results. Nothing novel is offered to further the science.
  • Similarly, submitting a single case report on a condition which has already been reported in large, multi-patient clinical studies will often be seen as not sufficiently important to merit publication.
  • Papers which report negative results are also usually rejected. (Although obtaining negative results forms an important element of research, journals highly prioritise submissions that report positive results.)

b. Insufficient data upon which to base conclusions

Many papers that reach the review stage are rejected because although their hypothesis is clear and the study is well designed, the conclusions made do not have enough data to make the case.

  • Perhaps the sample size or patient data set is too small to yield statistically significant results. 
  • Alternatively, in medical studies, the follow-up period may be too short to adequately demonstrate the claimed efficacy of a drug or treatment.

Note: For such papers, reviewers may request the authors to do any/all of the following:

  • Conduct additional experiments.
  • Enrol more patients into their study.
  • Report the results at a later date after a longer follow-up period. 

c. Insufficient overall quality of manuscript submission

To provide insights into the peer review process, many journals provide detailed review protocols for their peer reviewers. These protocols can function as detailed flow charts to guide the review of each submission, or they might provide checklists of key manuscript elements to evaluate. The idea is to ensure the availability of an objective framework against which the decision taken by a peer reviewer to accept or reject a paper can later be scrutinised and evaluated.

Some reviewers are asked to focus intensely on certain aspects of a submission, such as methodology, ethical practices or statistical evaluation. Depending on the submission, a conscientious reviewer may take several hours to evaluate a single manuscript. Given this level of investment of their own time and effort into a manuscript which is not theirs, reviewers expect authors to submit papers of the highest quality possible.

Quality should be evident everywhere:

  • Meticulous and accurate statistical calculations and tables
  • Thoroughness and clarity in reporting the research processes and techniques utilised 
  • Precision in graphics and images
  • Correct grammar and language usage
  • Attention to detail and format in the references

Sadly, a surprisingly large percentage of papers are turned down because of sloppiness or inattention to details. (However, this can be addressed by having your paper reviewed by a professional, whether an individual or a service.)

Tips to avoid peer review rejection

a. Make sure your hypothesis/research question is significant to your specialty

Be sure to brainstorm often with your colleagues and department chair. Clearly identify the ‘big’ questions for your specialty, and then develop experiments on how to answer those questions.

b. Build a wide network that will contribute to your research/writing in various ways

It takes an entire ‘academic village’ to raise a paper from concept to publication. Form connections with individuals with a strong flair for writing and for making complex science comprehensible. These include:

Research-related professional How they can contribute to your research
Study design experts
Calculate sufficient sample sizes needed to make statistically significant conclusions
Research librarians Help researchers identify and locate supporting research and references
Graphic artists Help achieve optimal visual expression of data by designing images and graphics

c. Have seasoned mentors read your paper before submission

You may find that those who provide the most honest, most demanding and harshest pre-submission critique can emerge as your most enthusiastic supporters in disguise. Surviving a rigorous pre-submission evaluation through your mentors is a good way to ensure success. And quite apart from that, who knows, the suggestions given by senior researchers having a passionate thirst for ensuring excellence in all academic papers processed from their end might have the serendipitous benefit of instilling that same quality in you!

Note: If you aren’t straightaway aware of any senior researcher who would be happy to review your paper, you can consider an academic editing service, especially one that provides scientific assessment.


  • Pursuing answers to the ‘big’ and significant questions of science is a solid way for an author to accelerate the chances of getting their submissions to the review stage.
  • Designing and executing sufficiently large studies with adequate follow-up will also enhance your paper’s chances of receiving a full-blown review.
  • Submitting high-quality papers, which exude laborious attention to every detail, will also enhance your chances for eventual publication.


Read previous (second) in series: Reasons for Desk Rejection – and how to avoid it


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