Why Journal Editors Keep Rejecting Your Manuscript: a Journal Editor’s Perspective

Insights into the Journal Submission Process

  • Identify keywords in your title to show significance from existing publications.
  • Perform a plagiarism check after completing your manuscript to avoid exceeding a plagiarism rate threshold which results in outright rejection.
  • Consider the impact your work will have when selecting a journal.
SCI Journal rejection

I keep receiving rejection letters. What should I do?

Submitting a manuscript to an SCI journal is difficult enough. Everyone encounters difficulty when submitting SCI papers. Typically, about 80% of submitted manuscripts are rejected during the initial screening stage.

After a manuscript is submitted, the submission status displays “with the editor”. In less than two weeks, a rejection letter should be received, a standard letter without reference to constructive comments about the content of the paper. Such standard replies often hit the author’s confidence and waste much time.

“I keep receiving such rejection letters, what should I do?”

The key to the issue is to ensure there are no initial problems with the manuscript itself before submission. Based on NJE’s more than ten years of industry understanding, manuscript consulting, manuscript submission, manuscript preparation, and manuscript review experience, we have summarized the following five reasons to consider to avoid a rapid rejection and a response letter without an editor’s constructive comments:

1. Keywords: Parallel Use in Published Research

A very obvious reason for rejection of your manuscript, specifically in the more traditional and established journals in the field of manuscript research, is the use of established keywords in the Title. To illustrate a case study, a researcher working on the therapeutic effect of a drug on an animal model with a specified disease discovers before submission a published article with the same drug’s therapeutic effect on the same disease. The author submits the manuscript to a different journal with a significant difference in scope and depth with the idea that it is acceptable due to the varying journal target. Although the target journal differed, the author quickly received a rejection letter within 7 days of submission. The reason stated by the editor-in-chief was clear, it “lacked innovation.”

How do you improve this?

To start, the Title can be appropriately modified to highlight the differences in the new research to compare it to past publications. The actual detailed similarities and differences would be more extensively disclosed in the cover letter to the journal editor. Of significant importance is the citation of the published article in the Discussion section with the appropriate arguments. One additional consideration, it is important to select top-tier journals for a comprehensive review.

2. Plagiarism: unacceptable rate

Some journals do not mention the high rate of plagiarism and simply reject the manuscript in a standard letter. While in others, if the plagiarism rate threshold is exceeded, the journal’s formatting editors reject it outright. In both cases, the author is left with a clear unexplainable reason for the rejection.

What can be done?

Once the initial manuscript content is completed, perform a plagiarism check. After obtaining the text-similarity rate and if you’re uncertain of the English level of the manuscript, Edit the full text. This improves the overall quality of the manuscript and increases the publication process down the road.

On an important note, selecting the correct plagiarism tool is critical. There is a risk to user privacy, security, and data protection. Before performing a plagiarism check, make sure you can answer the following:

  • Is the online plagiarism-detection tool safe to use as far as data protection, licensing of the submitted content, intellectual property, and user privacy are concerned?
  • Does the word ‘free’ have any unexpected strings attached?

3. Results: title or conclusion research do not support the research results

Your paper should begin with a title that describes the content of the manuscript. It is quite common that a title does not clearly support the research results. The issue stems in part because often researcher is a process of development. Once it is written the author is intimately familiar with the content and lacks true objectivity. However, an Impactful Title is still required. The case becomes one where the author selects an “eye-catching” title that doesn’t accurately reflect the focus of the research conclusion.

Use descriptive words that associate strongly with the content of the research. To illustrate, for a conclusion such as the following: studies have found that protein X is an obvious high expression in liver cancer, an author may select the title, “Protein X Stimulates the Occurrence of Liver Cancer.” However, in this case, the results cannot support the conclusion because the high expression of protein X in liver cancer is only a phenotype. Given this understanding, a journal editor would quickly decide to reject the manuscript. Select a title that reports exactly what the research has done to avoid exaggerating the conclusion and overstate the value of the research.

4. Format: Warning! Obvious error

Take the time to review your final manuscript and make sure to do a thoroughly formatting check. Don’t allow a Figure number to risk your submission. Check your formatting. Have a second pair of eyes, a colleague, or a professional editor review your manuscript before submission. The time taken to review your paper for quality will ultimately save you pain and months of delays.
Finding a technical issue is usually the last straw for a journal. Finding subtitles that do not match the content, such as incorrectly numbered figures: Figure 1, Figure 3, Figure 4, etc. are warning signs for an editor. What this clearly states to a journal editor is that the author did not take the manuscript seriously. Then the concern in the mind of the editor quickly turns to the manuscript readability. 

5. Journal Scope: The research does not match the scope

The reason seems to be taken for granted, but often because authors submit manuscripts without a thorough understanding of the scope of the journal. Without delay, the manuscript is rejected. By taking the time to understand the target journal’s scope, the risk of rejection is lessened and valuable time saved can be used on actual research. Understand your target journal’s scope before beginning the writing process to ensure a smooth submission process. If you’re burdened with work or are uncertain how to proceed, ask a colleague or reach out to a professional publication partner to obtain a journal recommendation.

The latest industry insights offer a bright side to the journal selection process. Many journals now accept research that relates to multiple disciplines. Consider research on lung cancer, the author can choose to target a specialized journal on the study of lung cancer or a multidisciplinary journal with a broader field scope.

Deciding on a journal can be relatively straightforward and it can greatly shorten the waiting period for publication.

As a final point, the view that poor research can be submitted to low-impact journals should be discarded. Unsatisfactory manuscripts will not be accepted in any respectable journal.


Suggested readings

Delasalle, Jenny. (2016, February 25). How to speed up the publication of your research – and impress journal editors [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://jennydelasalle.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/how-to-speed-up-publication-of-your-research-and-impress-journal-editors/

Delasalle, Jenny. (2017, November 17). Choosing scholarly journals: Peer review, time, and rejection rates [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://jennydelasalle.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/choosing-scholarly-journals-pr-time-rejection/

Glover, N.M., Antoniadi, I., George, G.M., Götzenberger, L., Gutzat, R., Koorem, K., Liancourt, P., … Mayer, P. (2016). A pragmatic approach to getting published: 35 tips for early career researchers. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7 (610). 1-7. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00610

Mukherjee, Debdut. (2018, August 3). Choosing the right journal – A comprehensive guide for early-career researchers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.typeset.io/choose-right-journal-early-stage-researchers-guide-ea2cf236dde4

Mukherjee, Debdut. (2018, March 7). 11 reasons why research papers are rejected [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.typeset.io/11-reasons-why-research-papers-are-rejected-3e272b633186

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