In this post, I discuss 5 common reasons why your journal manuscript is rejected from publication, taking into account my experience managing several scholarly journals.
For 11 years, one of my daily routines working in the journal division (I administered a number of academic journals, science and humanities journals) was sending that dreaded email to authors, telling them that their manuscripts were rejected and the reason for rejection.
Yes, for over a decade, part of my job was dealing with plenty of disappointed people.
Imagine. You have spent hours crafting your journal manuscript, and you are sure it is a perfect fit for the journal.
You submit the manuscript to a journal editor who reviews it thoroughly. And then they reject it from publication. After weeks or months of waiting in anticipation, all you get is a crushing defeat.
Sometimes, a manuscript is declined publication without even going through the peer review.
What are the reasons why your journal manuscript is rejected from publication?
Here, we discuss 5 common reasons.
Table of Contents
1. Your journal manuscript is not within the scope of the journal’s publication
Submitting a paper within scope is an important prerequisite.
When journal editors conduct journal manuscript evaluations, they look for manuscripts that fit within the scope of their journal’s publication. It is part of the editorial’s responsibility to only publish papers within the aim and scope.
A journal’s aim and scope can be found very easily.
Most of the time, it’s right there on the homepage itself! So when you arrive at the journal’s website, spend a couple of minutes to know about the journal further.
Read the about section, where (databases) the journal is indexed in and the types of papers the journal publishes (original research, review papers, book reviews, case studies, etc.), and not to forget, the publication scope.
If your submitted manuscript is not within your scope, the rejection will come very early without undergoing the peer-review process.
Sure, the journal editors would not want to waste their time reviewing a paper that will never get published!
2. Language issue
Sometimes, authors are in a rush to publish their journal papers due to certain reasons.
These reasons could be authors chasing deadlines, a PhD candidate needing to produce evidence of publications, getting the next research grant, meeting research key performance indicators (KPIs) and so on.
In a rush, they tend to get clumsy by submitting a manuscript with poor English command and numerous errors throughout the paper. Even their abstract is full of language errors!
Sad but true.
Journal editors will not be happy when the language of a manuscript is poor. Certainly, they do not wish to publish sub-par journal manuscripts, which will affect the journal’s own standing and rating.
Likewise, reviewers would find it a turn-off when they have to attend a poorly written manuscript. They will not be motivated to read journal manuscripts that are full of English errors.
After all, it is their time and effort spent reviewing your manuscript.
So, make sure you properly and thoroughly edit your journal manuscript well before submission. Spend some extra hours proofreading for language issues like spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical issues needing rectifications.
Also, I would recommend your paper to be edited by a professional editor who preferably has expertise in academic editing. This is especially important if English is not your native language.
Note that having your manuscript edited and proofread professionally does not guarantee acceptance yet, but this is half the job done.
Always remember that if you want to publish in international journals with strong impact factor ratings, take time and invest in getting good English command before submitting any journal papers.
3. Your research lack novelty
Research must have novelty before it can be published in a scholarly journal.
What does it mean by novelty?
Novelty means that similar research has not been done and published elsewhere. New or novel research will not be found on research literature (databases and archives).
Editors and reviewers play a vital part in identifying the novelty or the gap your research is fulfilling.
Manuscript reviewers are usually those who are experts with years of extensive experience in your research area. It won’t take them long to find out if your research has been contributed to the academic literature.
New journal manuscripts should present new ideas, concepts and results that are not already covered in other journal papers previously published by the journal or any other journals indexed in the same databases as your journal manuscript will be submitted into.
In journal publishing, novelty is an important aspect to consider when it comes to acceptance for journal publication.
So make sure you have done an extensive literature survey and research on this before writing your manuscript.
Try researching in journal databases such as Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed and so on (some databases can be accessed for free, while others require subscription) using keywords related to your research and see what comes up.
Look at the methodologies or approaches, experiments and findings. If you find similarities, it’s time to step back and tweak things.
Good researchers also read extensively. They read books, articles and journals related to their field of expertise.
This habit of extensive reading will help them identify research related to their field. Hence, a good researcher has the fantastic ability to know if certain research is novel based on his reading without writing his next journal manuscript.
4. Your journal manuscript did not comply with the submission guidelines
I noticed, time and again, that many authors did not even bother to read journal submission guidelines. Why is this so?
As a result, they submit a highly non-compliant manuscript that does not adhere to the journals’ styles, formats, and requirements.
Each scholarly journal has its own requirements and style of writing, which authors need to follow.
Some of these requirements include the following: reference/citation format (e.g., Harvard, Chicago, APA), illustration guides (format of visuals), the length of paper (min and maximum), section styles, in-text citation and so on.
If you don’t follow these requirements, you will make the journal administrator’s life difficult. Poorly non-compliant submission (even if your paper is within the right scope) will definitely result in a rejection.
5. Your work (or part of it) has been previously published elsewhere
Academic journals have a mechanism to detect plagiarism by using different tools.
Here, we are talking about self-plagiarism, in which an author publishes the same content (either partial or in its entirely) in different journals.
Self-plagiarism is a serious journal manuscript publishing offense. You may get yourself banned from that journal.
A journal may also make an official complaint about your offense. Certain institutions do not take this lightly, and you may end up with disciplinary actions.
So, tread carefully.
The rule is simple. If a certain part of your journal paper has already been published elsewhere, it means you cannot publish it again anywhere else.
Also, keep in mind that you cannot submit the same manuscript to two (or more) different journals at one time. This is also something that researchers are not aware of.
You will need to wait for the process to complete and see the result first. If your manuscript ends up with an acceptance, then that’s good. If your paper is otherwise rejected, then you can now seek submission to another journal.
It can be hurtful when your journal manuscript gets rejected for publication.
In the academic fraternity, we have the notion that “you will perish if you don’t publish” enough. Sometimes, one paper rejection means that an academic cannot get the promotion or meet the annual KPI target.
Different authors react differently when their journal manuscripts (or any type of publishing documentation) get rejected.
Some would express thanks and move on to find a different publisher. While some others get mad, and sometimes I had to bear the brunt of their anger.
To me, the best way of handling a manuscript rejection is planning the subsequent strategy of how the manuscript can be improved and sent to another journal that might consider publishing it.
Rejection does not mean that the manuscript is trash. In fact, the likelihood for the manuscript to be published in another journal will be higher if you follow the right process and meet the right criteria.
As time goes, I will continue updating the article and add more reasons why your journal manuscript is rejected so that the write-up can remain relevant and up to date.
If you have an opinion, feel free to add your thought in the comment section below. I will be happy to hear from you.