A frustrating aspect of the manuscript submission process is rejection. Sometimes the response that delays publication is as simple as a request for changes suggested by the reviewers, but more disheartening can be an outright rejection of sending the manuscript to peer review. Even more frustrating is that the rejection letter from the journal’s editor may leave you wondering why your manuscript was rejected, making it difficult to fix the problems before finding a new publication for your work. Below are some of the common reasons a journal or publisher may reject a manuscript. Many of these issues can be addressed prior to submitting your article, increasing your chances at advancing to peer review and subsequent publication.
The Wrong Type of Article
Different journals publish different types of articles and can vary in both the topics they accept for submissions and the number of pages they will accept per manuscript. For example, Nature Methods expects to receive papers on research techniques for use in the life sciences, whereas papers on computational methods would be better suited for Frontiers in Physics. Read through the Aims & Scope section or the About page of the target journal’s website prior to setting your sights on that journal. The Author Guidelines section is also an important part of the publisher’s website to read to ensure that the type of article (e.g., Original Research, Letter, Review) you are preparing fits what they’re looking for and that you have structured your paper to fit their length requirements.
Not Including All of the Required Materials
When submitting a manuscript, publishers will request the written work as a specific type of file. They will also specify how they want to receive visual elements, appendices, supplemental data, and other parts to either be included in the article or on their website. It is important to follow the instructions provided on the submission site to ensure all of the requested materials are provided in the format in which they request them. It is also important to provide all of the information on funding, authors, and conflicts of interest as directed by the instructions on the submission website.
Not Following the Publisher’s Guidelines
A quick way to get a rejection letter without any peers setting eyes on your work is to not follow the author guidelines of the target journal. Some publications have simple guidelines consisting of a single, short webpage, allowing researchers and authors to choose how they present their work. However, on the other end of the spectrum are journals with very specific formatting requirements provided in lengthy PDFs outlining the order, style, font, and other considerations for the presentation of the work in a submitted manuscript.
To minimize the risk of rejection, carefully follow the author guidelines and ensure all style and formatting requests are taken into consideration. These requests can include the structure of the abstract or summary, which dictionary to follow for spelling (e.g., American English spellings vs. Oxford English spellings vs. British English spellings), the spacing used in tables (e.g., double-spaced 10-pt font vs. single-spaced 12-pt), the format of headings and subheadings (e.g., italics vs. bold and sentence case vs. title case), and citation style (e.g., numbered vs. alphabetical). For example, the Lancet has a requirement that submissions to journals under their banner use a midpoint dot instead of a decimal. Other journals may have similar unexpected requests that aren’t clear without reading the submission guidelines.
Double-checking a recent issue of the journal of interest can aid in understanding what the guidelines request or to confirm how strict the editors are, but the guidelines can be referred to when responding to a rejection, so it is best to follow the written requests rather than rely on a previous publication.
Repetition or Plagiarism
Some manuscripts may be rejected for publication if they are too repetitive of previous work, even if it is by the same author. In addition, within
the manuscript, repetition should be limited. For example, the Discussion section should not be a summary of the results or repeat the Introduction section too extensively. In addition, avoid quoting directly from references to limit the number of overlaps found by plagiarism software.
Using the appropriate language and words (i.e., syntax) is important in conveying your work to readers in a way they will understand. Avoiding overly lengthy sentences and slang, defining jargon and abbreviations at first use in the text, and having your manuscript proofread can help prevent a quick dismissal by reviewers and readers alike. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important aspects of your paper that can derail peer review if glaring mistakes have been made. Also avoid use of extraneous words and phrases, such as “end result”, “it should be noted that”, and “it is worth mentioning.” Even writers who speak English as their first language need a second set of eyes to ensure they haven’t overlooked problems in their manuscript.
Inappropriate Reporting or Statistics
Reviewers will raise objections to papers that overreach in their interpretation of data or use inappropriate statistical methods. Avoid using vague terms, such as “unique”, or referring to validated findings as “novel”. Seeking the advice of a colleague and statistician can minimize the risk of these problems and provide support if critiques are raised. Full descriptions of the methods utilized are also required to ensure the manuscript isn’t sent back for clarification.
In addition to possibly being rejected for not following the citation and reference style, a manuscript may be rejected for publication at the peer review stage if references are not complete and up to date. Many reviewers look for recent (i.e., in the last 5 years) references from well-known names in the field of study. Ensuring that citations are included in the text as directed by the author guidelines, that all citations appear in the reference list, and that all references in the list supply the information requested by the publisher will minimize such issues.
Not citing the source of statistics and data can also be a problem for reviewers. In addition, they tend to discourage lengthy literature reviews in original research articles but expect a lengthy list for meta-analyses and reviews.
Avoid Rejection by Journals
The reasons why a scientific journal may reject a manuscript range from issues with the formatting or style to the need for additional experiments or considerations. All of these issues can be addressed after they are raised, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of rejection prior to peer review: be familiar with the journal’s aims and guidelines, follow general language rules, and present your work concisely and completely.
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