Considering All Options for Your Academic Paper
After waiting on tenterhooks for weeks to hear news about the paper you submitted to that top-tier scientific journal, you have finally received a message from the acquisitions editor. Unfortunately, the message does not contain the news you were expecting – along the lines, no doubt, of ‘We love your paper and would like to publish it in the next issue.’ Instead, your submission has been rejected, and the reasons given for the rejection are numerous, with some of the comments suggesting that significant revisions will be required to earn serious reconsideration and the possibility of publication in that periodical. Anyone who has been in this position will recall the unpleasant sensation and remember just how difficult it is to think clearly and make the best decisions at such a moment.

A good starting place can be found in a deep breath, a walk along a favourite route, a chat with a trusted confidant or maybe a glass of wine or dish of ice cream, depending on your preferences. The key is to step back a little, absorb the unwelcome information and gain at least a shade of objectivity before you examine and assess the feedback. Do not rush yourself. You invested a great deal of time in the research and writing of that paper, so a little more to make the wisest decisions for it is far from inappropriate. Remember that those detailed critical comments can be part of gaining this more productive perspective: they show interest on the editor’s part and an effort to help you improve manuscript. A rejection via a form letter that lacks the information for moving forward would be much worse.

Once you feel ready, or as ready as you can be, sit down with your manuscript alongside the feedback you have received and assess the situation critically. Make absolutely sure that you understand every comment that has been offered and can find the reason for each in your paper. If you are confused about anything, it requires illumination: it is never wise to move forward in the dark. It may prove helpful to consult a colleague or mentor for help if you find that you are unable to determine what was intended, or you may need to write to the acquisitions editor for clarification. This will not make you look silly or unintelligent. Be specific and enthusiastic and you will come across as concerned and willing to work towards making your paper as good as it can be. Even if you are unsure that you will actually make the revisions, keep your outlook positive and do not burn any bridges this early in the game.

With the criticism and the wishes of the editor clearly understood, you are ready to make constructive decisions about how to proceed. Some decisions will be far easier than others. If you failed to follow publisher guidelines with consistency in formatting your paper the first time, returning to those instructions to format it properly will be the obvious choice, but do be sure to get it right the second time. A professional scientific proofreader may be the best choice to help you there.

If aspects of the content of your manuscript have been criticised, deciding exactly what strategy will both maintain the integrity of your research and satisfy the concerns of the editor may prove tricky indeed. Again, colleagues and mentors may be able to offer valuable insights, and their input, like that of the acquisitions editor, should be given serious reflection. Never forget, however, that the paper, like the research behind it, is ultimately your own, and you are the one responsible for what you publish under your name. Your letter to the editor should make absolutely clear what you cannot change as well as what you are willing and able to change. It will be a waste of time and prove another disappointment to mislead that editor into expecting what you do not plan to do. Be realistic as well about the time it will take to make the revisions and polish the paper if the editor is willing to reconsider it for publication. You have been given a second chance, so taking the time to make it worthwhile is vital.