How to submit a journal article manuscript
Common reasons for rejection
Your manuscript can be rejected for many reasons but these can generally be divided into technical and editorial reasons.
Technical reasons usually require more work such as further experiments or analysis before your work can be published. Technical reasons for rejection include:
- Incomplete data. For example; too small a sample size or missing or poor controls
- Poor analysis such as using inappropriate statistical tests or a lack of statistics altogether
- Inappropriate methodology for answering your hypothesis or using old methodology that has been surpassed by newer, more powerful methods that provide more robust results
- Weak research motive where your hypothesis is not clear or academically valid, or your data does not answer the question posed
- Inaccurate conclusions on assumptions that are not supported by your data
These rejection reasons can be avoided by investing enough time in reading around the subject area, carefully deciding on the topic to focus on, the hypothesis and planning a comprehensive experiment as outlined in the Springer Nature Journal Tutorial: Writing a Journal Manuscript.
Editorial reasons for rejection include:
- Out of scope for the journal
- Not enough of an advance or of enough impact for the journal
- Research ethics ignored such as consent from patients or approval from an ethics committee for animal research
- Lack of proper structure or not following journal formatting requirements
- Lack of the necessary detail for readers to fully understand and repeat the authors’ analysis and experiments
- Lack of up-to-date references or references containing a high proportion of self-citations
- Has poor language quality such that it cannot be understood by readers
- Difficult to follow logic or poorly presented data.
- Violation of publication ethics
You can avoid these rejection reasons by following the journal specific guidelines, ensuring you write a coherent paper in good English and honestly assessing you work when deciding on a target journal. All of these points are covered in the Writing a Journal Manuscript and the Writing in English tutorials.
Revising and responding
Once you manuscript has come back from reviewers you may be given the opportunity to revise it in accordance with the reviewer comments. You will usually receive a letter from the editor who handled your manuscript outlining the changes they would like you to make and links to the reviewer reports. This letter usually contains information on how to return your revised manuscript including instructions on how to highlight the changes made and when you need to return the revised version.
When revising your manuscript and responding to peer review comments you must:
- Thank the reviewers and editors for their time and comments.
- Address all points raised by the editor and reviewers.
- Describe the major revisions to your manuscript in your response letter followed by point-by-point responses to the comments raised.
- Perform any additional experiments or analyses the reviewers recommend (unless you feel that they would not make your paper better; if so, please provide sufficient explanation as to why you believe this to be the case in your response letter).
- Provide a polite and scholarly rebuttal to any points or comments you disagree with. Remember if your manuscript is sent for a second round of peer review the reviewers will see this letter too.
- Differentiate between reviewer comments and your responses in your letter.
Clearly show the major revisions in the text, either with a different color text, by highlighting the changes, or with Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature. This is in addition to describing the changes in your point by point cover letter.
Return the revised manuscript and response letter within the time period allotted by the editor.
The following is an example as to how to respond to a reviewer comment:
Reviewer comment: “In your analysis of the data you have chosen to use a somewhat obscure fitting function (regression). In my opinion, a simple Gaussian function would have sufficed. Moreover, the results would be more instructive and easier to compare to previous results.”
- Response in agreement with the reviewer: “We agree with the reviewer’s assessment of the analysis. Our tailored function does make it impossible to fully interpret the data in terms of the prevailing theories. In addition, in its current form, we agree it would be difficult to tell that this measurement constitutes a significant improvement over previously reported values. We have therefore re-analyzed the data using a Gaussian fitting function.”
- Response disagreeing with the reviewer: “We agree with the reviewer that a simple Gaussian fit would facilitate comparison with the results of other studies. However, our tailored function allows for the analysis of the data in terms of the Smith model [Smith et al, 1998]. We have added two sentences to the paper (page 3, paragraph 2) to explain the use of this function and Smith’s model.”
Note that in both comments (agreeing and disagreeing) the author is polite and shows respect for the reviewer’s opinion. Also, in both circumstances, the author makes a change to the manuscript that addresses the reviewer’s question.
When to dispute a decision
It is disappointing when you are rejected from a journal however it is important to know when it is appropriate to contest a decision and when to submit to another journal. We recommend that before you decide your next steps you take a few days to consider you options.
Appeals of a rejection decision are only successful in a handful of cases and usually only when you can provide strong evidence or new data that can respond to and alleviate the concerns of the editor and reviewers. As appeals are matters of journal policy they are given lower priority than new submissions and may take at least several weeks, if not longer, to resolve. Appeals must be rational arguments not emotional ones so be sure you have enough evidence before trying to change the editor’s mind.
If you do decide to go ahead with an appeal letter you should:
- Clearly explain why you disagree with the decision and provide any new information that you would like the editors to take into consideration. This should not be a repetition of what you have included in your original submission or cover letter.
- If the editors or reviewers have highlighted shortcomings with your paper that you think you can address please indicate how you would do this, such as providing further data.
- Include a point-by-point response to any reviewer comments.
- Provide any evidence to support your opinion when you believe a reviewer has made technical errors in their assessment of your manuscript or has been biased.
Generally, only one letter defending your submission will be accepted for each of the review stages (editorial review and peer review). If you are unsuccessful after sending a response letter, then you should strongly consider selecting another journal.
There may be cases when you want to submit to another journal prior to receiving a decision. For example, if your results are time sensitive, the review process is taking much longer than normal for that journal, and the editors cannot speed up the process. In this case, it is important to notify the editors that you are withdrawing your manuscript, and get confirmation that this it has been withdrawn, before you submit it to a different journal.
You have now completed the learning part of the tutorial, and so we recommend that you take the quiz to consolidate your learning. You can take this quiz as many times as you like, so please don’t worry if you get some questions wrong. Simply go back to the section that you need, and try again.