Reviewers Comments on Research Papers and Publisher Rejection
In virtually all worthwhile endeavours there is significant risk. Sharing your scholarly writing is no exception, and this is the case whether you are submitting it to a journal or press for publication or passing it along to instructors or mentors for commentary and grading. It is important to remember that pleasing every reader every time is impossible, and to recognise that dealing with negative feedback is an aspect of the larger process that will ultimately lead to success.
The emotional response generated by negative feedback can be quite overwhelming, especially when a scholar is still learning how to make positive use of critical commentary. For most authors, some time is necessary to absorb the shock regarding what they had, after all, considered excellent work. The point is not to extend this time by wallowing unhelpfully in that initial emotional response, so it can be helpful to establish a set period in which to pass through disappointment, frustration and acceptance before moving forward – a few hours, a day perhaps or maybe a few days, but definitely no longer. Remember how important doing and sharing your research seemed to you before the bad news came and try to find that perspective again, but with a greater understanding of just how challenging the admirable goals you have set for yourself really are.
You should then be ready for action – the action required to improve your work and achieve the success you desire. You can start by rereading any criticism you received, ensuring that you do so very carefully alongside your writing. Your eyes and mind must be alert to exactly what the problems identified are, why they are problematic in the context of your research and other work in the field, and how your text can be changed to resolve the problems. Trying to imagine the perspective of your critic(s) can be immensely useful because it will help you read their feedback critically and put it to constructive use in effective revisions. It will also widen your outlook to accommodate readers and views that you had not anticipated, and this is always a positive development. Having colleagues and mentors read your work and the criticism you received can also be helpful because knowledgeable readers are often able to see clearly what the author cannot.
Ideally, you will come away from an assessment of your work and the criticism it inspired with a positive plan for revision that acknowledges what you can as well as what you cannot change. The revisions may require a significant amount of work on their own, but it is also essential to explain them to your critic(s), whether you need to write a letter to a journal editor describing your intentions or set up a meeting with your mentor to discuss them.
When your work has met with dissatisfaction or rejection without the provision of specific comments identifying the problems detected by your critic(s), you will have a good deal less to go on, but here, too, constructive action can be effective. You could, for example, compare the content, structure, formatting and writing style of your text to papers published by the relevant journal or to theses written by other students in your department and then make revisions to emulate the successful documents before resubmitting your work. You could also engage the services of a professional academic or scientific proofreader to check and correct any errors in your language and formatting and give your paper a scholarly shine.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.