How To Deal with Journal Paper Rejection
Scholarly manuscripts are rejected by publishers every day. Indeed, far more books and articles submitted for consideration are declined than accepted, and it is rare for an academic or scientific manuscript to be accepted for publication without some request for changes or corrections. Given these statistics, it is hardly surprising that there are different kinds of rejection and thus different approaches to revision in order to resolve problems and achieve publication.
Among the most common and frustrating of rejections is the one that comes without explanation, or with so little explanation that it provides no help at all. A common tidbit of information in such formulaic rejections is that the manuscript does not fit the current publishing agenda of the journal or press, but since this tends to be noted when the document does present the right kind of research as well as when it does not, little of a practical nature in terms of how to improve the manuscript is gained. What is clear, however, is that the manuscript is very unlikely to find a home with that publisher, unless, of course, there was some hint in the rejection that revising and resubmitting would be welcome. If such a hint, even completely unexplained, is present, a critical read through the manuscript to determine where improvements could be made is definitely in order. Otherwise, sending the manuscript elsewhere will be the right approach, in which case revisions to observe the guidelines of the new publisher will be required, and, if the manuscript has earned more than one unexplained rejection, that critical assessment for possible improvements is a good idea as well.
Much more helpful are rejections that provide some valid details about why the journal or press has not accepted the manuscript for publication. The nature of these and the ways in which to approach the work required to revise a manuscript for success vary widely. An author may be offered precise specifications about exactly what must be changed or corrected, or only informed in general statements about the problems preventing publication. There may be an invitation to resubmit the manuscript once the revisions are made, in which case revising to meet the needs of the publisher will earn reconsideration and perhaps publication. On the other hand, there may be an indication that the manuscript will indeed be published if the revisions are completed in a satisfactory manner, in which case doing so will earn publication. The situation will largely determine the decisions and actions necessary, but in all cases it is vital to be absolutely certain about the meaning of the criticism, to reflect carefully on what can and cannot be changed, to communicate clearly and professionally with the editor, and to do whatever is promised within the agreed deadlines. Reformatting to observe some neglected aspect of the author instructions may not present a challenge, but improving incorrect or confusing language certainly can, and so can altering some major aspect of the research or argument.
Finally, it may seem an expedient resolution to send a manuscript off to another publisher when you receive a rejection that outlines major problems, but if those problems really do exist, they will need to be resolved sooner or later. Receiving another rejection weeks or months later is no more than a waste of time, though it is possible that the additional feedback may be helpful when the decision to tackle the changes is finally made. Remember that sending a manuscript to a different publisher may not necessarily mean that it will go to a different peer reviewer. Good reviewers are in high demand, and if the field of study is small, the likelihood of the manuscript ending up on the same desk is greater. Reflection, reassessment and revision are therefore always sound strategies when making the best choices for a rejected manuscript.
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