My Target Journal Rejected My Research Paper: What Should I Do?
It is never easy for authors to receive and accept a journal editor’s rejection of an academic or scientific paper. Even researchers who have been through the dark paths of rejection and eventually emerged, published if not entirely unscathed, on the other side are unlikely to welcome such news about a manuscript submitted to a journal. They will probably be the most likely, however, to remind authors new to scholarly publishing that rejection is extremely common – the rate is as high as 90% of submitted manuscripts among the most prestigious scientific journals – and that there are constructive ways to make the most of the situation as you continue to pursue your publication goals.
There are two primary kinds of rejection. The first kind is almost immediate and is often referred to as a desk rejection. It takes place before peer review and is the result of problems such as an author submitting an incomplete manuscript, neglecting the journal’s instructions for authors or failing to achieve a standard of English that allows the research to be understood and reviewed. In such cases, resubmission to the same journal is often possible after the problems have been resolved, but if the reasons for immediate rejection involve a poor fit for the journal or an insignificant advancement of current knowledge, it is unlikely the editor will be interested in your work, in which case it will be best to submit your paper to a journal better suited to your research. If, on the other hand, the rejection is the result of some publishing misconduct such as plagiarism or submitting a paper to more than one journal simultaneously, it is probable the editor will not want to reconsider your manuscript even if the work is of interest to the journal, but you will have a good idea of what must be changed before you submit your paper to a different journal.
The second kind of rejection comes after the peer reviewers have assessed a manuscript and written critical reports on it, so your methods, results and interpretations will probably be the focus, though issues such as language, formatting and references might still arise. Often reviewer comments and an editor’s decision are sent to the author on the assumption, explicitly stated or otherwise, that the paper will be reconsidered and ideally published if the author makes the changes necessary to address the concerns of the peer reviewers. If this is the case, revising and resubmitting the manuscript as soon as possible is usually the best option, especially if you feel that you can make all or most of the required changes. Be sure to consider every comment thoughtfully and critically, especially those you disagree with most, and recognise that even instances of simple misunderstanding can indicate the need for change to clarify your presentation of data or your interpretation of findings. Do not forget to include a letter with your resubmission that explains in detail exactly what you have changed in response to the reviewers’ comments as well as what you could not change, providing a sound research-based reason when the latter is the case.
If it is clear in the post-review rejection you receive that resubmission to the same journal is not a possibility, do not take your frustration out on the editor and do not give up. Persistence and progressive improvement are the keys to success, and the comments of the editor and peer reviewers can be used to revise and improve your manuscript before you submit it to a different journal. Though you need not address every review comment when you are submitting your writing elsewhere, it is always a wise strategy to make selective use of the expert criticism the reviewers have provided. It is also possible that one of those experts may be recruited to peer review your paper for the second journal, so completely ignoring the suggestions he or she has already taken the time to offer will not promote a positive second review. While you are revising, make sure that you also tailor your manuscript to observe the formatting guidelines and documentation style of the new journal, and be sure to rewrite your cover letter to address the new editor and explain why your paper is such a good fit for the publication.