5 ways you can ensure your manuscript avoids the desk reject pile

Looking at your submission through the eyes of a journal editor

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You’ve spent months working on your research and putting togetheryour manuscript. You hit ‘submit’….then sit back and wait for the journal’sdecision. You feel a flicker of excitement when the email lands but then youread it: Your submission has been rejected. Why?

Well, editors reject between 30 and 50 percent of the articlessubmitted to Elsevier journals before they even reach the peer-review stage,and one of the top reasons for rejection is poor language.

Here are five ways to look at your manuscript through the eyes ofan editor, with tips to help you avoid the desk reject pile.

1.Sloppy copy

Whatthe editor sees: Typos, grammatical errors and poor punctuation make a lastingimpression on the editor. Mistakes do happen, of course, but a manuscriptlittered with language errors is difficult to read – errors can become sodistracting that they get in the way of the content. And frequent errorssuggest that you haven’t taken the care and attention needed to produce a high-qualitymanuscript.

Howyou can avoid rejection: Take care when you’re writing,and think carefully as you type. Proofread your manuscript and ask yourco-authors to proofread it. Before you submit, it’s a good idea to ask someonewho has never read the manuscript – perhaps a colleague or a friend – to‘sanity check’ it for language and typographical errors. You may also find ithelpful to opt for a professional proofreadingservice.

2.Unclear message

Whatthe editor sees: What are you trying to say about your research? Is your messageclear or ambiguous? The editor will be looking for your message, particularlyin your abstract. The results you’re sharing are important, so don’t let themdown with unclear writing.

Howyou can avoid rejection: If you’re struggling to get yourmessage across clearly, try breaking it down into smaller chunks. Short sentencescan help clarify meaning by removing ambiguity and confusion from your message.You could also opt for simpler language where you want to be clear about yourmessage. Ask a colleague who has not worked on the manuscript to read it andtell you what they think your message is – this will give you an idea of how itcomes across. Professionallanguage services can also help you make your message clearer.

Tools and resources to keep you away from the desk reject pile

3.Inconsistency and inaccuracy

Whatthe editor sees: Inconsistency gives the impression that your manuscript – andyour research – is not rigorous. If the statistics in your results sectiondon’t match what you discuss in the conclusion, or if your table legendactually refers to the figure on the previous page, the editor will notice.

Howyou can avoid rejection: Check, check and check again! Beforeyou start writing, make a list of hotspots – where are you likely to getconfused? Go through your manuscript in detail, referring back to all theplaces you refer to the same data, and checking your hotspots. You can use thectrl+F function in Microsoft Word to help you locate certain words or numbers.Again, a proofreading service may help with this.

4.Unsuitability

Whatthe editor sees: The editor will know immediately if your article is within thescope of the journal or not, and will desk reject on that basis. Many journalshave specific sets of rules or criteria for authors, which editors use as abasis for rejection without review.

Howyou can avoid rejection: Before you submit, check thatyour manuscript is within the scope of the journal – you can use Elsevier’s Journal Finder to locate the mostsuitable journals for your work. If it’s within scope, read the Guide forAuthors (available on the journal homepage on Elsevier.com) to check forjournal-specific criteria or guidelines. If your manuscript does not comply,find a different journal to submit to.

5.Unclear impact or novelty

Whatthe editor sees: Depending on the journal, the editor will be looking tounderstand what’s new about your research, and what impact it has on the field.They will be looking for a clear statement explaining to them why yourmanuscript is important and why they should accept it for publication in theirjournal.

Howyou can avoid rejection: Be clear about what yourfindings say. Think about what you’re adding to the knowledge base, and whatimpact your research has. Your title is a great place to start: is itappealing? Does it reflect the story and the main point of what you want tosay? Be careful though – overstating your impact and extrapolating your resultscould be even more damaging to your chances of success.

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