Scientific Publishing Success: How To Avoid Rejection Without Review June 20 2014, 0 Comments

Scientists often put months – or even years – of hard work into each academic manuscript that they write, with the goal of publishing their research in a reputable academic journal. However, because journals often receive many more submissions than they have space to print, it is becoming increasing common for journal editors to reject submitted manuscripts without sending them out for peer review. Elsevier estimates that 30%-50% of the articles that are submitted to one of their scholarly journals are summarily ‘desk rejected’. For journals such as Nature or Science, that percentage can top 80. Having your manuscript rejected from a journal without review is discouraging, and can negatively impact your research productivity. Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to increase your odds of clearing this publication hurdle, and to improve your rate of publishing success.

Who decides the fate of your manuscript?

When a manuscript is submitted to academic journal, it typically undergoes a preliminary assessment by an assigned handling editor. The editor decides whether to send the manuscript out for review. There are many reasons why an editor might decide to reject a paper. He or she might have ethical concerns about the study, believe that the experiments are flawed, or detect evidence of plagiarism. Here, we assume that you have great research to publish. By understanding how handling editors assess new manuscript submissions, you can maximize the chances that your manuscript will be reviewed and eventually accepted for publication.

1. Ensure that your manuscript is a good fit for the journal. Editors are only interested in papers that will be of interest to the journal’s main audience (which may or may not include the general public). Most journals have a webpage that describes the aim and scope of the publication. Make sure that your study is appropriate for your target journal. For example, if your manuscript is a review of auditory neurophysiology, don’t submit it to a journal that primarily publishes experimental biochemistry research.

2. Confirm that your manuscript is submission-ready. Editors like papers that adhere to the journal’s formatting requirements because they are easier to assess for scientific merit, and they save the journal copy editing time (and money). Most journals have a ‘Guide for Authors’ on their webpage with specific instructions for the layout of the manuscript, and the presentation of the manuscript components. Failure to submit a properly formatted manuscript can give the editor the impression that you are lazy, uninterested, or lack pride in your work. Does your lack of attention to detail also extend to your science? Cast your manuscript in the best possible light by making sure that it conforms to journal formatting guidelines before your initial submission to the journal. If you are unsure how your paper should be formatted, consider asking a professional scientific editing and formatting company to do it for you.

3. Submit a perfectly polished manuscript. Editors prefer to send focused, well-structured, and well-written manuscripts out for review. Consider asking a colleague or professional to review your paper prior to submission to ensure that it is grammatically correct, free from spelling errors, and logically structured. If English is not your first language, it is a good idea to ask a native English speaker to read the paper. The quality of English language use can have a significant effect on perceptions of research merit. If an editor decides that your manuscript is incoherent or requires substantial editing for clarity of meaning, it is likely to be rejected outright. Therefore, many journal editors recommend that authors enlist the services of an English-language scientific editing company to improve the writing prior to submission.

4. Compose a high-quality cover letter. The cover letter is your first opportunity to convince the editor that your research is worthy of scientific review. A well-written cover letter clearly states that the manuscript falls within the scope of the journal, that it is not under consideration at any other journal, and that it is likely to be relevant and of interest to the journal’s readership. The letter is also an opportunity to describe (in one or two sentences) the contribution to science that your manuscript makes.