A journal rejecting a submission is an unfortunate reality in the life of an academician. This is especially true for young scholars who rightly feel dejected given the hard work and high expectations hinged in their submissions.

However, a journal rejection is not the end of the world and there are still various options before a young scholar, depending on the exact type of rejection. Here are some quick tips on how to react to a journal rejection.

What type of rejection: Read the communication carefully to understand what type or stage of rejection has been made by the journal. In some cases, rejections are desk rejections, where the editors reject an article in the first stage of sorting. This may be due to poorly written or structured articles, failure to follow formatting instructions of the journals, lack of proper English, improper referencing, etc. These can be easily rectified and you can share it back after revision with the same journal.

Poor fit with the journal: Often journals reject articles because it does not fit their exact focus area or the interests of its readership. In such cases, you may either try to rework the research paper, but perhaps it makes more sense to try some other journal perhaps better suited for your research paper. Sometimes, journals also suggest ‘insignificant advancement to current knowledge’ as a reason, which basically means your article is not adding much value to the present discourse. This is where you have to think about how to improve upon your work to make it more relevant.

Reviewer Comments: Reviewers often share detailed comments and suggest resubmission post revision. This is not a total rejection but an ask to improve upon your paper. You can revise your research paper and resubmit it with a detailed response to the review comments.

Technical issues: Sometimes journals reject submissions because of technical factors. There may be complaints of plagiarism, insufficient data work, reviewers finding flaws with the methodology or data collection, challenges to the hypothesis, etc. For plagiarism, often unintentional due to improper referencing, it is best to engage professional editorial help for a plagiarism proof manuscript.

Critiques of data work, methodology, etc are serious concerns that require not just a relook at the research paper but the entire research exercise. In such a case, you may either choose to revisit your entire work, or you may choose to share a revised version with some other journal, as the one who has rejected it on these grounds is unlikely to entertain even a revised version.

Change journals: This is always an option, often a tempting one, especially an emotional one in wake of rejection. except for some specific reasons, trying to resubmit to a new journal means only going through the entire submission process all over again. This means delays as well as extra work. Therefore, such a decision, if taken, must be done judiciously considering all factors of rejection.

Revising your article post reviewer comments

Receiving peer-review comments from a journal often gives rise to mixed feelings. Presuming the editor offers to reconsider your submission post revision, it essentially means the first step of getting your academic paper published in the journal of your choice is successfully completed. However, at the same time, any long-drawn revision process means more effort and resources on the same manuscript which is often a mental challenge as well.

Here is some step by step tips on how to approach the process of revising manuscripts post-peer-review comments:

Take it easy: Once you receive peer-review comments, the first reaction is to go through it at one go in excitement. However, responding to the comments must be done in a much calmer manner. It is best to revisit the comments after a few days, once you have worn out the initial feelings.

Organize: read the comments multiple times. Often, reviewers suggest certain major and minor comments. Authors often lose sight of the minor comments while they are pre-occupied to deal with the major comments. However, as a professional, you are expected to address each and every comment.

It is suggested that you tabulate the comments in detail. Demarcate each comment in certain categories: editorial changes, formatting related changes, comments on methodology, comments on data-work, etc. Once you have tabulated the comments, estimate how much time and effort it will require you to address all those comments. This then gives you a more definitive idea of how much effort you need for revision to address all peer-review comments.

Take a call: actually, it involves multiple calls, but you should take them one by one. First and foremost, you need to decide if you will make all the revisions requested or not. Often, reviewers may make suggestions to which you need not necessarily agree to.

Some comments are tricky, especially those related to the research itself – to the methodology used, for instance, or the results obtained and the conclusions drawn from them. These may require considerable revision requiring extra time and funding to accomplish, or they may necessitate thinking about and reporting your research in different ways.  You need to decide whether you want to walk the mile or stick to what you already have produced.

All these decisions lead to the final call; if you still want to pursue publishing the academic paper in the journal. You may choose to accept some constructive comments which may help you improve your manuscript, but prefer to submit the improved draft to some other journal.

Respond to the editor: Irrespective of what calls you take, as a professional courtesy, write back to the editor who has shared the feedback with you. Share the list of comments, address each comment as to whether you disagree to it (and why) or you agree (and what you are going to do to address it). If you are keen to pursue publishing in the same journal, let the editor know by when you can re-share the manuscript based on your time estimation.

Revising and Editing

Revising can be considered to be the most critical stage of the writing process. Revision refers to going through the rough draft and making improvisations or corrections wherever necessary. It may even be repeated three or four times depending upon the satisfaction level of the writer.

One cannot assume that the written draft is completely error-free. There might be some areas, which would have skipped your mind while writing. There might be instances where your draft doesn’t make sense. After writing, you might have a gut feeling that something is wrong about it, but you are not able to grasp what exactly it is. A proper revision helps to sort out all the above problems. Prepare a series of questions, and then check whether your draft fulfils all the mentioned criteria. The checklist can be as follows:

  • Does the draft convey what you want to say?
  • Have you included all the relevant information?
  • Does it make sense? Is it clear what you are trying to say? Can the reader understand it?
  • Does it remain focused on the main point/purpose of your topic throughout or does it deviate from it somewhere?
  • Is there any information that you need to add or remove?
  • Is it well-organized, or do some parts seem to be out of place?
  • Is there cohesiveness between the different paragraphs?
  • Is the style appropriate?
  • In case you have given examples, are they specific and clear?

There are also a few other things you need to keep in mind while revising:

  • Do not start revising your paper immediately after the writing is finished. If it’s a short paper, wait for a few hours, and if it’s a long and complex paper, wait for a day or two. A fresh mind and fresh eyes are the requisites for a better revision.
  • Read through more than once and focus on specific portions each time. For instance, focus on transitions between sentences during the first revision; focus on overall organization in the next, and so on.
  • Read your essays wearing someone else’s moccasins. It is always good to get someone to read through your draft. Often, the person who reads can point out where your draft is lacking, and can give valuable suggestions to improve it further.

After revising, you can edit the draft for grammatical errors, vocabulary, and spellings. This process should be kept at last because you might add, remove, or rewrite content during revising; and, it will just pile up your work if you have already edited it earlier.