Research paper writing is a specialized skill that all academicians have to learn. While publication is an essential part of the profession, the rates of rejection by journals are too high. Estimates suggest that for highly regarded journals like Cell, Nature, and Science, the rejection rate is as high as 97%! That is to say, of all the 100 submissions, only 3 make it through editorial and peer review scrutiny, and this is for top professionals of their fields! Therefore, it is critical that authors are aware of the reasons for rejection in order to avoid the same.
Top reasons for rejection:
Editorial reasons for Rejection
Mismatched scope: Each journal has a well-defined aim and scope, focusing on some specific area of the field. Often, authors share manuscripts with reputed journals for publication without actually checking if their article matches the journal objectives. It is best to check the scope of the journal before sharing the original manuscript; you may simply write to the editor to enquire if they are interested in an article on the topic you have written on.
Quality of writing: Many times, editors reject articles at the initial screening simply because of poor language. Journals have their own set of writing guidelines, including referencing style, font, etc. Any submission not fulfilling these conditions are automatically rejected. Poor language is another pet peeve of most editors, as is plagiarized content.
Value addition: Editors look for articles that add value to their journals. Often editors will reject articles that they find to be extensions of an earlier publication by the same author, the article has no archival value or adds little to the ongoing discourse.
Technical Reasons for Rejection
The structure: Most articles need to have a basic structure, starting with an introduction, followed by a literature review, methodology, etc. For empirical studies, the methodology, data reporting, etc. have to follow well-established protocols. Failure to adhere to accepted structures will lead to rejection.
Poor data work: Poor or insufficient data work is often the biggest bane. Journals will reject articles if they feel the hypothesis is unclear, data collection and analysis is insufficient or does not measure up to industry standards, poor or insufficient analytical tools, inconclusive data leading to speculation, especially in the conclusion. You need to have clarity on whether you need to undertake parametric or non-parametric tests for your data, whether the sample size is good enough to draw conclusions, whether the proper statistical checks and measures are adhered to, etc.
Poor referencing: Referencing is critical for an original submission, as it is directly linked to the problem of plagiarism. You must ensure that all your sources are duly referred to, and that too in the format specified by the journal. Often, journals will also reject articles if your references have dated articles and they feel you are not updated on the subject, or you are referring to the same article multiple times over the article.
It is advised to be acutely aware of these factors in advance before even drafting the original manuscript for submission.