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Tips & tricks for managing the peer review process with Editorial Manager - Part 4

11 January 2022 | 6 min read

By Katie Eve, José Stoop

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This is the fourth in a series of "tips & tricks" articles on making the review process easier and quicker. This article focuses on how to make a fair and relevant reject decision.

Unfortunately, rejecting manuscripts is part of your daily reality as editor. While specific rates vary between journals and subject fields, of course, across all Elsevier journals editors reject on average over 70% of submitted manuscripts. Reasons for rejection are many and varied, but generally relate to the manuscript lacking novelty or impact, having poor language quality, presenting ethical issues, or falling outside the journal's scope. In this article, we'd like to provide you with some guidance on how to select the most appropriate rejection term for the benefit of the author, their work, and the research community. You can also save yourself time in the process!

Choose the most appropriate "reject" decision term

Each journal has configured its own decision terms. Some are unique to the journal, whereas some are common to all journals on Editorial Manager (EM). In case you have been assigned a manuscript that, for whatever reason, is not suitable for your own journal, it is important that you to choose the most relevant decision term. This is important as these decision terms provide important context to authors but in some cases, they also trigger a follow-up process that further helps authors, such as transfer or resubmission to a more suitable journal.

Take the “out of scope” term as an example. This term should be used when the manuscript is scientifically/technically sound but simply does not fit your journal’s scope. (If there is an alternative journal in the journal’s ATS cluster that does fit the scope, you should choose the "reject – offer transfer" decision.) Selecting the “out of scope” decision term may lead to an author receiving a follow-up email offering assistance with resubmitting to an alternative (non-cluster) journal. It is therefore crucial that you select the “out of scope” decision term only when it applies, and not to mask rejection for fundamental shortcomings, or to simply soften the blow for authors - in which case you are not helping the author improve their work. It is also especially important to flag any ethical issues transparently. As explained above, if an ethical issue is hidden by an “out of scope” decision, there is a risk the article will end up in the published literature via the author being offered a guided transfer of their paper to an alternative journal. The standard ethical reject decision letter in EM is fully aligned with the suspected plagiarism/duplicate submission form letter available in Elsevier’s Publishing Ethics Resource Kit, where other guidance is available for different scenarios.TIP: Is this ethical reject decision letter not part of your decision letter bank? And / or does your journal only have one or a few decision terms configured, and do you think it could benefit from implementing more granular decision terms? Please reach out to your Journal Manager to discuss the options, copying your usual publishing contact.

The most used "reject" decision terms are the following; please check with your Journal Manager if you would like to implement one or more (including the decision template letter) for your journal:

  • Out of scope

  • Insufficient impact

  • Below publication standards

  • Language

  • Similarity (ethical issue)

  • Unable to secure reviewers

  • Reject – Suggest transfer (pre- or post-review)

Use decision phrases to provide more context to authors

We know that rejected authors are keen on receiving information about why their manuscript is rejected, as this will help them improve their manuscript for their next submission. To make it easier for editors to provide such information, we have implemented “editor decision phrases” in EM. Editor decision phrases are predefined text snippets providing more context for an editorial decision. You can select one or more of these generic phrases in EM when you are making a final decision. These are then automatically pulled into the author decision letter below your signature, generally under “Editor and Reviewer Comments”, where they can be customized further as needed.

An example of such a decision phrase is that which addresses the language of the manuscript, recommending the author seeks language assistance, either from a colleague who is a native speaker, or via a professional language editing service. This can significantly improve the paper and ensure that good quality research, from authors whose native language isn’t English, has a fair chance of being published.

TIP: You are encouraged to add new, journal-specific phrases to the list of generic ones. If you are interested, please contact your Journal Manager (copying your usual publishing contact) who can implement additional phrases for you.

Make use of the tools that Editorial Manager offers

To help you quickly evaluate and make the most appropriate decisions for your assignments, we have a variety of tools in place or coming soon on Editorial Manager.

Similarity Check

A Similarity Check/iThenticate Results report is available for manuscripts in EM. The report is accessed via link in the left-hand side "Action" menu of your list of assignments. Assessing the similarity report will help you gain a better understanding of the level of textual similarity between the submitted manuscript and other work. Form more information about interpreting the similarity report correctly, please consult our quick tips & tricks guide(opens in new tab/window). Important: the % similarity score is not indicative alone, as explained in this "Understanding the Similarity Score"(opens in new tab/window) blog post.

Em duplicate submission check (and Elsevier duplicate submission check - coming soon)

The EM duplicate submission check compares text and author similarity of the submitted manuscript with manuscripts previously submitted to the same journal. This can help you identify whether a manuscript has been accidentally, or intentionally, resubmitted. You will find this on the left-hand side action menu under the CrossCheck action link.

We are currently developing a duplicate submission check between Elsevier journals which will compare text similarity of the submitted manuscript which all manuscripts currently under consideration at Elsevier journals, enabling you to detect potential duplicate submissions across journals, a much requested feature.

To summarize

Choosing the most appropriate "reject" decision term and providing context can save you time and help authors transfer to a more suitable journal and improve their manuscript. While we realize it may be tempting to soften you reason(s) for rejection, the author and research community benefits most form honest and comprehensive feedback.

Further reading

Why on earth did you reject my paper?!

EM tips & tricks 1: Finding and inviting reviewers

EM tips & tricks 2: Increasing your reviewer success rates

EM tips & tricks 3: Making the best selection of reviewers