Manuscript rejected? Five insider tips to see you to success
October 2, 2023 | 4 min read
By Eleanne van Vliet, PhD, Tyrone Zhang
A guide to navigating your post-rejection publication journey
The path to publication often comes with challenges, and one of the most common is receiving the “We regret to inform you” email. Every year, millions of researchers encounter rejection during the publication process. Luckily, there’s plenty of support on offer to see you through to success.
If your manuscript has been rejected, the recent Researcher Academy webinar “Rejected manuscripts: Next steps and finding the right fit(opens in new tab/window)” will be a useful resource. In the one-hour session, Drs. Jessica Tom and Wesley Swords, both Scientific Managing Editors dedicated to offering personalized guidance to authors with rejected manuscripts, shared their personal experiences and editorial insights. You can watch the webinar on demand, and in case you’re short on time, we’ve summarized the five essential tips below...
1. Reflect (and act) on the feedback from the rejecting journal
First, it is important not to take manuscript rejection personally. Instead, value any feedback you receive, as it can help you improve your manuscript and identify a more suitable home for your research.
Understanding why your paper has been rejected is a good start. Common reasons for desk rejection (i.e., before external peer review) are usually related to the paper being out of scope; problems with the manuscript’s language or structure; failure to adhere to the guide for authors; lack of perceived novelty or impact; and/or ethical issues. For a post-review rejection, reasons are typically specified in the decision letter. Content issues, such as methodology flaws and analytical anomalies, are a high priority to address before a new submission.
2. Think twice before appealing the rejection
Are you thinking of appealing the decision? Perhaps you should reconsider. Manuscript improvements alone are not sufficient. Similarly, regardless of how well-drafted, polite and professional an appeal letter you write, there is no guarantee the decision will be reversed.
Although appealing the decision is within your right as an author, it’s worth noting that most appeals are not successful unless invited. Your time would therefore be better spent revising your manuscript, if required, and submitting to another journal.
3. Use these resources to find a more suitable home for your paper
In most cases, you’re more likely to be successful by submitting your manuscript elsewhere. How do you find the right fit, though? The following resources can help:
Scopus(opens in new tab/window) – This source-neutral abstract and citation database can help you find which journals have published similar research and when.
JournalFinder(opens in new tab/window) – Elsevier’s journal tool can generate a list of recommended journals based on your manuscript abstract.
References – The journals you’re citing are a potential match for your manuscript; remember to verify each journal’s aims and scope.
Transfer offers – You might receive journal recommendations for your next submission from the rejecting journal. This leads us to the next tip...
4. Take advantage of your transfer offer
If you receive a transfer offer, a curated list of journals that match your work is right at your fingertips. An article transfer from Elsevier is offered by a journal editor, a dedicated Scientific Managing Editor, or matching algorithms, after evaluating scope, article type, performance, and more.
Elsevier’s Article Transfer Service guides authors to the journal where they would have the greatest chance of acceptance through an efficient transfer process, shortening the path to publication. No need to spend hours researching different journals, trying to gauge whether they’re the right fit. Instead, you can reduce the time spent on resubmission and allocate more of your energy to your research, knowing that you’re targeting the most relevant titles.
5. Think about how to improve your chances of acceptance next time
Since you’ve taken stock of the editor/reviewer comments and found the right journal, what’s next? If you are required to revise your manuscript, here are some steps to follow:
Divide the reviewer comments into major and minor.
Complete the minor corrections first for a quick win.
Take your time to tackle the more challenging feedback, which may involve conducting more experiments, expanding your sample size, or performing statistical analyses.
After making revisions, respond to all review comments (the CALM way!) and stick to the science. Consult colleagues to ensure your responses are clear and polite.
If the reason for rejection is language-related, improving the language of your manuscript is vital for success in the next journal. You may wish to seek help from a native speaker or language editing service(opens in new tab/window) for a detailed language check.
We hope this summary will serve as a guiding light in the event of an unsuccessful submission. It’s okay to be upset but don’t lose hope – you'll get there! Rejection makes us and our research stronger. Effective authors use rejection to enable better publications in more suitable journals. Good luck!
Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window) offers free informative e-learning modules on a wide range of topics to support you along your research journey.