Understanding journal rejection - and looking for the silver lining

No one likes getting rejection letters. Sadly, however, these are a fact of academic life; papers sent out to journals and (in particular) grant applications are more likely to be rejected than accepted (or funded), especially if you are doing what you should be doing and aiming high with initial manuscript submissions (trying to get your work published in the best possible journals).

Submission (and rejection) advice

Thus, ‘work down the tree’ is the advice we always give to Early Career Researchers (ECRs):

Make a list of the best journals in your field from top-to-bottom and learn to pitch your work to the best possible one you think your paper has a decent change of getting into, then push it to the next down your list (once rejected), and so on.

It’s always well worth trying to publish your work in the top journals, while taking the time to market your research appropriately. These are skills that you can learn with the help of Charlesworth Knowledge; learn how to maximise your research outputs, including targeting the best possible journals and driving up your impact factor (IF).

Understanding why journals reject manuscripts

More often that not initial submissions lead to rejection. Receiving rejections can feel like a setback and can often be taken very negatively, especially early in your career. However, you must develop a thick skin and also realise that such outcomes might not be what they first seem: many journals these days reject almost all the papers that they receive, including after securing sets of peer review comments. This is in part because ‘rejection rate’ factors into a journal’s IF and so publishing houses want to ensure that this is as high as possible.

Reading a reject response - for a silver lining

This means that the standard set of responses that you would normally have received from a journal after submission (‘Accept’, ‘Minor revisions’, ‘Major revisions’ and ‘Reject’) are no longer so cut and dried. Journal editors will often send a ‘rejection’ email that also includes an option to re-submit:

We would consider a revised version of this paper if you are able to take the comments of the reviewers into account.

So: read rejection letters from journals with care as they are often more akin to ‘Major revision’ letters.


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