Journal Rejection as Inspiration for a New Perspective
No scholar who has invested all the time, energy and reflection required to conduct advanced research, devise a sophisticated argument and write an article designed for submission to a reputable journal wants to receive the news that the article has been rejected by the journal’s editor. Few events can steal the wind from an academic or scientific author’s sails more quickly than such disappointment, and if a considerable amount of time has passed between submitting the paper and receiving the rejection, frustration is added to that disappointment. Groundbreaking research needs to be published as soon as possible, after all, and weeks – in some cases, months – have just been lost.
It may seem counterproductive after so much time has already been wasted to take more time to absorb and process the rejection, but this is precisely what a scholar in this position should do. It is far from easy to take such rejection in stride, and this is true for experienced scholars who have been both published and rejected before as well as for those who are just starting their careers and working to achieve their first publications. Even if the message you receive from the editor is only a single generalised sentence such as ‘Your paper does not fit our publishing agenda,’ there is a lot to take in. In fact, such a formulaic rejection can be especially maddening if you chose the journal with care and know that it does indeed publish material precisely like the work you submitted. In addition, unhelpful responses of this kind provide you, as an author eager to improve your writing, with nothing specific to focus on as you try to determine what may have prevented the editor from accepting the article for publication.
If you are fortunate enough to have received some indication from the editor of exactly what has prevented your paper from being accepted, you will be better equipped to begin assessing your writing and planning revisions, especially if the editor or peer reviewers have provided some explanation of why certain aspects of your paper are problematic and how they might be improved. This sort of constructive criticism will not make the process easy, of course, but it will help you with re-visioning – with, that is, seeing your work from a new perspective, particularly that of the editors and reviewers considering your article for publication, and making adjustments in accordance with that new perspective. Whether you receive such helpful comments or not, however, it is precisely this sort of re-visioning that is necessary when you face rejection and wish to improve your writing to turn rejection into acceptance. In the absence of detailed commentary from the journal, you may want to have a colleague or mentor read through your paper to provide a fresh but informed perspective. Alternatively, you could hire a professional academic or scientific proofreader to check for errors and polish both your writing and your formatting to achieve the highest scholarly standard while meeting all journal requirements.
Regardless of how much help you are able to recruit, however, you, as the researcher and author, know you work and intentions better than anyone else can, and the essential processes of re-vision and revision are your responsibility. You will therefore need to reread your writing with as much objectivity and critical acumen as you can muster. It can be a daunting task, but one that will prove productive if you keep foremost in your mind that your research is worthy of publication and potentially valuable to other scholars working in your field. Remember as well to focus your efforts on ensuring that the most groundbreaking and valuable aspects of your work are communicated with clarity, accuracy and precision to the next editor or peer reviewer who reads your paper.