HOW TO RECONSTRUCT A REJECTED RESEARCH PAPER (part 2): why papers get rejected.

The title suggests that it is “papers that get rejected and not the researcher”. This highlight is crucial and should be the second mindset needed to reconstruct a rejected paper. By the way the first mindset which suggests that rejection is part of the review process can be found in part 1 ( see ). In this part, I will focus on the major reasons why manuscripts get rejected. It is important to understand the “why” in order to deploy the “know-how”.

1. Out of scope.

Manuscript submitted to the wrong journal ( out of scope) will likely get a desk reject not because it is of low quality. In addition to the rejection, the author will waste time unnecessarily. Some journals may take up to 30 days to let you know that the paper is out of scope. Meanwhile, effective journals take the same number of days to give you the first feedback after the review process.
To avert rejection based on out of scope and unwarranted waste of time, the first thing to do is to read  information on the scope of the journal. First, look at the reference list and consider the journal with the modal citation in your manuscript. A more systematic approach to select the right journal is to use the SJR ranking ( ). The time spent to choose the right journal is time well spent.

2. Non-adherence to authors’ guidelines.

Once the right journal is selected, the next thing to do is to read the authors’ guidelines. Different journals have different requirements. So, pay attention to the requirements for the structure, language, references, figures, tables, etc. Non-adherence will also wast your time.
Even when a paper is to the resubmitted to a different journal, the revised manuscript should conform to the guidelines of the new journal. It is also important to cite papers from the new journal to show that it is within scope.

3. Organization and structure.

The authors’ guidelines provide the superstructure  for the articles but variations are allowed to accommodate the diversity of contents. I created a structure for my papers and I adapt them to reflect the uniqueness of the manuscript ( ). You can have a structure that you can easily fit your results into.

Whereas the structure can be likened to the skeletal design of the paper, organization gives it fresh and blood. The flow of information and the positions of tables and figures are matters of organization. Organization and structure help the reviewers and your readers to understand the study and it’s significance.

4. Incomplete study and reporting.

If the body of evidence and explanations provided appear incomplete, the manuscript may be rejected. The reviewers may recommend further clarifications or addition of a figure, table, flowchart, etc. A prove of scientific rigor needs to be evidenced probably through the description of the methodology and presentation of the results.

Extreme conditions may involve recommendations for further results, validation or application of additional technique/ methodology so that the results presented can be corroborated.
It is important to note that the reviewers will, in the first instance, judge the manuscript based on the evidence before them and how they are presented. So, presenting the necessary results that can show how your arguments lead to the conclusions of the study could reduce the requests for more results.

5. Language and style.

Most journals are published in English but it is not the first language to many researchers. It is vital to understand the mechanics of the language of the journal. Language and style can be learned from role models in your field. Academic writing is different from other forms of writing. By reading good papers, one is likely to learn how to write a good paper.

Good manuscripts are revised severally before submission. It is worthwhile to eliminate all grounds for the reviewers to reject the manuscript before submitting it. Remember that getting it right in the first submission will save time in the publication process. If a paper makes it through the review stage, it may get any of these recommendations: accept as it is; accept with minor revisions; accept with major revisions; or reject. The minimum target should be accept with major revisions. Once the paper is accepted, other revisions can be sorted out and some recommendations can be rebutted.

6. Unrealistic expectations from the reviewers.

In part 1, I stated that review comments should not be taken personal. The most annoying feedback is unrealistic expectation. A reviewer who prefers a certain approach or software may disregard approaches or software they are not familiar with. The truth is people have access to different equipment or software.

Still, demonstrating that the study is well conducted using evidence and telling the research story concisely may avert unrealistic expectations. The paper should be self-contained such that the background, aim, objective, hypothesis, methodology, results and interpretation of the results are elegantly knitted together. The originality, novelty and significance of the study should be attractive and explicitly communicated at the introduction section.

7. Excessive hypes.

Manuscripts with hypes are prone to criticisms. Academic humility is disarming. One could tell when a reviewer is empathetic even when the recommendation is reject. If the reviewers notice humility, they will offer useful feedback and references that can improve the manuscript or research.

Let me now say this. I hope this version is useful. I wrote the first version which I took time to write. Surpringly, I could not find any trace of it where I saved it. I had to give a summary as above. That said, expect the final part of this series which will focus on soft issues and quick action plans to reconstruct a rejected paper.

More importantly, you may have noticed that I focused on how to construct the manuscript so that it will not get rejected. Prevention is better than cure, I suppose. However, in reality, rejections do happen and the focus of this series is to build your resilience and confidence to bounce back and reengage to ensure that your hard work passes through the publication process. Afterall, of what use is a research if no one knows about it or uses it. Stay motivated untill breakthrough happens and I promise you that the repeat publication process will get easier.

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