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Rejection Isn’t (Always) Final

Date: January 2020

When a manuscript is rejected by a journal, it can sometimes feel like all is lost. After putting months, sometimes even years, of hard work and thought and heart into a manuscript, it can feel very personal when an editor turns away your work. Unfortunately, this is part of the academic lifestyle, but that doesn’t make rejection get much easier. Sometimes, it even feels difficult to carefully review what the editors and reviewers had to say when the rejection is still raw – but this is too important to overlook.

Rejection isn’t always final.

It’s important to understand that editors handle dozens of manuscripts a day, perhaps even hundreds a month, depending on the chosen journal.  They are charged with making several decisions day in and day out, over, and over, and over.  Remember how hard it is to decide whether you want two or three sugars in your coffee?  Decision fatigue is a real thing.  Sometimes, it means editors might ‘get it wrong’, misinterpret reviewers’ comments, and reject your manuscript when you feel otherwise – this is why it is so important to read those comments!

After reading them, if you feel there are adequate positive remarks and the negative remarks are something you can address in a timely manner, it may be time to respond to the editor.  Remember, the worst thing that can happen is that the editor says ‘no’ – and you’ll be no worse off than you already were!  When writing your letter, respect and understanding is one of the most important components – the editor is working a very busy job and, depending on the journal, might not even be paid for it.  They are human, and when making your argument, the best path forward is one that is clear, concise, and not emotional.

While concise, this letter should contain the merits of your paper, preferably those pointed out by reviewers, and how they outweigh any negative comments.  Don’t ignore those negative comments, however; it’s important to briefly outline how you plan to address those comments.  These are the reasons the editor thought the manuscript should be rejected, after all.  It should be abundantly clear that you know exactly how to solve the problems, so the editor isn’t left guessing.  An obvious plan of attack will make them feel encouraged you will be able to produce a manuscript they’d feel happy to present in their journal.

So, take a deep breath!  Read your reviews.  Consider your options.  Remember: rejection isn’t always final.

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