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Handling Peer Review

When Should You Dispute an Editorial Decision?


Dr. Danny M. D’Amore, Publications and Marketing Specialist

April 2021

No matter how kindly a journal rejection is written, it still stings when you receive one for a manuscript you have worked tirelessly on. Despite this, it is important to understand when it is appropriate to challenge a journal editor’s decision, and when to accept the criticism and submit to an alternative journal instead.

Evaluating an editorial decision

Importantly, give yourself a day or two after receiving the decision before you begin an analysis; it is easiest to look at something with a pair of fresh eyes. Review the points made in favor of your manuscript and the points made against accepting your manuscript for publication. Why? You need to weigh both if you are to write a compelling appeal.

When reviewing the journal decision, consider the following:

• Are the points of relatively equal weight, or does the negative vastly outweigh the positive? If the latter is true, you are going to have a much harder time crafting a successful appeal.
• Are the negative points subjective, or objective?
o Subjective: If you and a member of the reviewing process have a difference of opinion, perhaps this can be overcome. When writing your appeal, you want to be able to source your argument. Find citations that support your position; if you refute the reviewer, be sure to use evidence to do so.
o Objective: How “big” is the sticking point? If reviewers are asking for another trial, could you feasibly finish in three months’ time?

Writing an appeal

If you feel you have enough evidence and support to appeal the editorial decision, treat it like you would a response letter. Address all points of concern in a point-by-point matter, taking care to supply evidence for each issue you are addressing. Citations and additional data are very useful in this stage.

Be sure not to shy away from any critiques, especially if they are particularly strong. These were most likely the factors weighing into the undesired outcome, so you must explain how you will overcome these comments by the reviewers or editor. Ignoring them will not give the editorial team the confidence that you will be able to edit the manuscript to their satisfaction. Laying out a clear and organized plan will demonstrate that you have not only considered the issue(s), but you are willing to take their input onboard.

If possible, find an uninvolved party to review your letter for an unbiased opinion. Do the responses address the concerns raised? Have the language, grammar, and spelling concerns all been addressed? A professional and polished appeal will have a more positive impact than one that seems hurried.

Finally, remember to remain respectful and professional at all times. If your appeal letter is unsuccessful, it is likely time to move on to another journal. Take the criticism from the current letter and apply it in your future research or manuscripts.

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