What To Do with a Rejected Academic Paper or Scientific Manuscript
With so many academic and scientific articles vying for space on the limited pages of top-tier scholarly journals, delays and rejections are commonplace, and some papers, sad to say, never do find a home in the periodicals targeted by their authors. It is impossible to establish any general rule as to how many months of delay or how many rejections from different journals are required before an author should give up on traditional publication, because every situation is different. Persistence can certainly pay off, revising in response to constructive criticism can work wonders and it is always wise to exhaust all reasonable possibilities before moving on, especially if you need to publish in a well-known journal and time is not a great concern. If, however, the priority is getting your research out there to readers as quickly as possible, that may be a more pressing concern than where your work appears, and in such cases the threshold of patience with traditional publishing may be somewhat shorter.
It is important to remember that academic and scientific papers can be repeatedly rejected from scholarly journals for reasons other than poor quality. Yes, it is certainly the case that poorly conceived, poorly structured, poorly written, low-quality research is regularly passed over by reputable journals, but, unfortunately, so too is work that is simply too innovative and controversial – work, that is, that challenges conventional ways of thinking. Some might consider this the very best scholarly work of all, yet it is not always easy to publish such material in traditional ways. Deciding why your writing has met with rejection can be extremely difficult, and it will be helpful to recruit an experienced colleague or mentor to assist you with the assessment, remembering that even a poor paper can provide good material for other formats of various kinds, both shorter and longer.
Alternative formats for communicating your research are numerous, with online venues being the most immediate and widespread. Open-access journals may provide an opportunity to publish your paper exactly as you submitted it to other journals, and research-sharing platforms like Academia.edu provide the same sort of opportunity while allowing your paper to appear along with your profile and other writing, published or otherwise. For blog postings and online groups the best or most engaging parts of a paper that does not quite work as a whole might be singled out and edited for presentation in short chunks. On the other hand, a paper that does not stand well on its own can become a section in a longer study or even a chapter in a book, again with editing to incorporate it into its new context.
It is not easy, of course, to give up the idea of publication in that top-tier journal, but maybe your next paper will be just what its editor is hoping to publish. In the meantime, having 10, 50, 100, 1000 or even more readers learning from and maybe even responding to your writing may provide some consolation.