Why on earth did you reject my paper?!

Helping authors understand the reason behind editorial decisions

By Alina Helsloot - July 15, 2021  3 mins
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© istockphoto.com/Dilok Klaisataporn

Decisions, decisions, decisions! As editor, you are in a difficult position. You are committed to giving each manuscript that is submitted to your journal a portion of your time and attention in order to guarantee a fair evaluation and provide a clear response to the author. But with the ever-increasing volume of submissions, this can be a real challenge. Authors expect good feedback on their paper and can be disappointed if they get a rejection with only minimal explanation and no further context.

To help the author improve their rejected submission and provide them with good advice in the limited time you have, we’ve come up with a solution to do so more efficiently. We hope that it will not only soften the blow for authors, but that it will also serve as a learning experience by helping them amend their manuscript and get it into the best possible shape should they wish to submit to an alternative journal. What’s more, we hope that providing more clarity to authors on their rejection will save your time as well, as authors will be less likely to come back with requests for clarification or simply submit an unchanged version of their rejected manuscript to another journal.

With this in mind, we have enabled an existing functionality in Editorial Manager for a large portion of our journals: editor decision phrases. This feature allows editors to easily pick and choose from a set of predefined text snippets that provide more context on the editorial decision and which cover the main scenarios for rejection.

Screenshot of decision phrases
Editor decision phrases available as shown in the submission system: simply select the phrases you wish to include.

Once selected, these phrases will automatically appear in the draft author decision letter and can be further customized as needed before the letter is sent to the author. To give you an idea of the range on offer, there are phrases for manuscripts being out of scope; lacking novelty; in need of language editing; or where the results are too premature. Note that it is possible to select multiple phrases for any decision term, and in that way provide feedback on various aspects of the manuscript if needed.

As well as these generic phrases, it is also possible – and encouraged – for editors to add new, journal-specific phrases. This allows editors to select one or more phrases that are tailored to the needs of the journal and its subject field – as we realize all journals have their own dynamics. Adding these customized decision phrases is something that can be arranged via your Journal Manager.

The decision phrases are already proving popular amongst editors as the following quote (from Professor Mike Forde, Editor-in-Chief of Construction and Building Materials) attests “I have found these editor decision phrases very useful when searching for clear unambiguous feedback to give to authors.”

We hope that you will also find this functionality beneficial for your work as editor. Should you have any questions or comments, or receive feedback from authors you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to discuss with your regular publishing contact.


Alina Helsloot
Written by

Alina Helsloot

Written by

Alina Helsloot

Alina Helsloot has worked in STM journal publishing for the past 11 years. She has managed various portfolios in Life Sciences as Executive Publisher and became Head of Author Experience at Elsevier in 2017. Alina’s international team develops products and services that help authors publish successfully and under their model of choice, while providing them with the best possible experience.

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