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Handling Peer Review

What’s Next After Manuscript Rejection?

 

Dr. Zachary M. Wilmot, Associate Editor

September 2022


Rejection is an important, if unpleasant, part of academia. At some point in their careers, nearly all academics will have their article rejected from a journal or conference. Though it can be hard to accept rejection after the weeks, months, or years spent researching and writing an article, learning how to move on with your academic life after rejection is an important skill. Taking the following steps after your article is rejected can make the post-rejection process easier and make you a better scholar.

1. Take a step back

After receiving a rejection letter from a journal, you should give yourself a few days to process it before making any sort of decision about the article’s future. After reading the letter once, it can be helpful to put it aside for a day or two before reading it again more carefully. This will help clear your head and allow you to take the next steps without feeling the same level of frustration, sadness, or anger you may have felt immediately after reading the letter. This will also put you in a better frame of mind to accept any legitimate criticisms from the reviewers or editor.

2. Read the rejection letter carefully and determine the reason for rejection

After cooling off for a few days, come back to the letter and read it again, but more carefully. The first thing you should note is the reason given for rejection. There are many reasons an article might be rejected, and some of them have nothing to do with the quality of the research or writing. Determining why your article was rejected is the first step in deciding what to do next.

If your article was rejected by the editor without being sent to reviewers—what is sometimes called a “desk rejection”—then it is likely that your article was rejected because the editor did not think it was a good fit for the journal. In this case, you should select another journal and try again, but make sure to research your next target journal to make sure that your article fits its aims, scope, and topic. If the editor left any feedback on your submission, incorporate any appropriate suggestions into your work before submitting again.

If your article was rejected for language or scientific reasons, then it is strongly encouraged to revise your article before sending it to another journal.

3. Consider appealing the editor’s decision

In very rare cases, you might strongly disagree with the editor’s or the reviewers’ comments. If you received a desk rejection, protesting the editor’s decision will likely result in a second, firmer rejection, so it is usually best to simply proceed to another journal in this case. However, if your article was rejected by the reviewers and you noticed substantial errors in their comments regarding the content of your manuscript, you can consider writing a polite letter to the editor that gently rebuts the reviewers’ critiques, explains in detail how the reviewers are mistaken, and asks the editor to consider a revise and resubmit decision instead. If you believe this is the appropriate route, refer to our article on how Rejection Isn’t (Always) Final for advice in crafting this letter.

However, note that in the overwhelming majority of cases, appealing the editor’s decision will result in no change and may even annoy the editor. Most of the time, it is best to simply move on to another journal.

4. Carefully consider all reviewer and editor comments and incorporate any appropriate feedback

If you have decided not to appeal the editor’s decision, then it is time to start preparing your article for submission to another journal. It may be helpful to consider the reviewer comments as an extra round of feedback before submission to another journal. Incorporating any valid comments they may have can improve your article’s chances of being accepted next time.

If you have decided not to appeal the editor’s decision, then it is time to start preparing your article for submission to another journal. It may be helpful to consider the reviewer comments as an extra round of feedback before submission to another journal. Incorporating any valid comments they may have can improve your article’s chances of being accepted next time.

For each point, consider whether the reviewer is correct or if they are mistaken. If the reviewer makes a good critique, consider modifying your article to address their concern. Pay particular attention to anything that multiple reviewers point out; given how often reviewers disagree with one another, if they agree on anything, it is probably something that needs to be addressed. If the reviewers give contradicting comments, then consider the merits of both reviewers’ critiques before deciding what, if any, changes to make.

Once you have gone through every one of the reviewers’ comments and have made appropriate changes to your article, then you can begin considering what journal to try next.

5. Consider language or scientific editing

If the editor or reviewers mention problems with language, then consider having a colleague with a good grasp of the English language proofread your article, or consider hiring a professional editing service to improve your article’s language. Even if reviewers did not mention this as a problem, it never hurts to have more pairs of eyes looking over your work.

After a journal rejection, it may also be helpful to have someone knowledgeable evaluate your article to find any problems in argumentation, logic, or scientific rigor that will improve it. While a colleague may be able to do this, you can also consider hiring a scientific editor to evaluate the science and argumentation of your article and provide suggestions for improvement. If reviewers felt that your article was confusing or unclear, your paper might also benefit from scientific editing.

Consider using LetPub’s Scientific and Language Editing services to improve the quality of your article and increase the chances of your article being accepted.

6. Select and submit to another journal

After reviewing the reviewer comments, improving your article, and editing your work, it is time to select another journal to submit to. In many cases, it makes sense to submit your article to a journal with a slightly lower impact factor than the previous journal, as this improves the odds of your article being accepted. Regardless, make sure that your article matches the scope, aims, and topic of the new target journal. Make sure to also check your manuscript to ensure that it is formatted and written in the journal’s style; check your new target journal’s submission guidelines for templates, information on how to format citations, and stylistic guidelines. Adhering to the journal’s style is very important to improve your article’s odds of acceptance.

7. Remember that rejection is normal

It may be that even after submission to another journal your article is rejected a second time. As discouraging as that might be, do not lose heart; many articles are rejected multiple times before they are finally accepted for publication.

It may be that even after submission to another journal your article is rejected a second time. As discouraging as that might be, do not lose heart; many articles are rejected multiple times before they are finally accepted for publication.

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