Two boxes with rejected and acceopted papers

52: Don’t let your paper get rejected: Avoid these 25 reasons!

You probably think if my paper gets rejected it is simply not good enough, but do you know why papers get rejected? In fact, there is a whole bunch of reasons why journal editors may decline your paper. ‘Not good enough’ is a very broad description for a set of varying reasons that can lead to rejection. If you know the reasons from the start you can easily avoid them. Get an overview of the most common reasons for rejection here and take a self-test how much your next paper is in danger of getting rejected.    

If you are among those who are locked out of their office and have to change your research plan due to COVID19, you probably want to use this time effectively and get started with a paper. We at TRESS ACADEMIC are here to support you in this very unique situation. In our series of blog posts and worksheets to help you writing papers, we have previously offered you guidance on  

In this post, we look at the specific fear that many authors might have: The fear of getting a paper rejected once you submitted it to an international peer-reviewed journal. This fear can curb all positive energy on writing a paper because you think it might get declined anyway and then all the hard work would be for the bin.  

You can do something about it: The better you know what the exact factors are that could lead to rejection, the better you will be able to prepare yourself for these threats and challenges.

We give you a comprehensive overview of 25 reasons why a paper could get rejected. Once you know the reasons you can make sure to prepare yourself for how to get around them and get your paper published. We, therefore, offer a free worksheet to self-assess in how far you think your paper might be prone to rejection due to these reasons: “Assessing rejection risk”. 

Reasons why a paper can get rejected

1. Out of scope 

This a very common and universal reason. It means that editors do not think that your paper fits to their journal. Either the topic itself or the type of study is not appealing enough to their readers. Thus, it does not necessarily mean your paper is “not good enough” but you submitted it to the wrong journal.

2. Lacking state-of-the-art

A journal will reject your paper if they feel that you are not aware of the ongoing research in your field. They think if you do not know and display what other researchers have already done, you might have missed important developments in your field. 

 3. Lack of originality

Rejection happens if your paper doesn’t present any new research findings, concepts or methods. Eventually, the journal sends you a reference to another paper who has presented the same findings like you but long before yours. For the reader this would be a déjà-vu of existing knowledge and thus boring. 

4. Conclusion lacking

In your paper, you do not only report the research question and the findings but you also want to inform your readers in a conclusion what they can learn from you. If such a take-home message is missing, papers get rejected because your readers might wonder what can be learned from your work at all. 

5. Flaws in research design and methods

This is probably the most common reason for papers getting rejected. Editors and reviewers have a close look at the way how you approached your research question. This screening is essential for the validity of your work. Minor problems with methods can be dealt with in a revision but if major problems are found and cannot be addressed or if substantial information about methods is missing, a rejection is likely. 

6. Lack of a clear research question

This type of rejection occurs when your paper focuses too much on what you did in your project without informing properly about the research question behind it. It might be very clear for you as author, why and what you want to achieve with your paper, yet, this information is vital to have for your readers. 

7. Redundant publication

If you try to republish the same research findings that you have already published earlier in a journal paper, it would be considered as repetition and will get rejected. It would raise the issue of originality of your journal paper, which is a key aspect for a journal. 

8. Lack of relevance 

The physical space in journals is limited and so is the interest and reading time of a journal’s readership. Therefore, it is vital for a journal to publish only papers with high relevance for their audience. If the journal editor cannot identify the relevance of your paper to their audience, it is unlikely that they are supportive of its publication.   

9. Lack of international importance

A journal will be read in all parts of the world and your peers are sitting all-around the globe. The editor needs to assess whether your paper is of interest to a wider audience and not only readers from your country or region. If there is no lesson to be learned for a global readership, your paper might get declined. 

10. Unsuitable paper topic

Not every topic is suitable for publication in journals. Journals have a preference for the topics that they specify in their guidelines. For papers outside these topic areas it can be more difficult to be considered. 

11. Target audience unclear

If editors cannot identify a clear target audience for your paper inside the readership of their journals, they will not consider your work. It is not enough if you assume that your paper is interesting for everybody in your field, because this could mean it is also interesting for nobody. 

12. Ethical conflicts

Papers that deal uncritically with ethical problems or seem to be built on ethically incorrect behaviour will most likely not be considered. 

13. Lacking paper message

If, after reading your paper, a reader, an editor or a reviewer is in doubt about what your paper message actually is, the journal will decline publication. At the end, every author wants to communicate a message and if this message cannot be found or understood, publication is not an option for a journal. 

14. Presenting preliminary results

Sometimes, authors are not 100% sure about the accuracy of their results, but if you, from the start only present preliminary findings, knowing that your final results might be different, journals are not interested in your work. What should the reader do with your paper if your final results are different then your published preliminary ones? 

15. Lack of editing

If your text is hard to read, difficult to understand, repetitive, lengthy, and requires several rounds of reading in order to be understood, you make it extra difficult for a journal to accept your paper. 

16. Formal requirements ignored

If your submission does not live up to the formal requirements of the specific journal, you risk that editors are not even looking at your text. Ignoring journal requirements simply means you waste the possibility of getting published in the journal of your choice. 

17. Problems with language and style

A paper that cannot be understood or is difficult to read will most likely not be considered. Don’t assume good science will make up for poor language and style. 

18. Poor response to reviewers

If you ignore, disagree or turn down all suggestions from reviewers or if you try to negotiate your way through peer-review, you clearly risk getting rejected. Reviewers spend quite some time on your paper and might react negatively if you don’t respond properly to their suggestions. 

19. Lack of focus

A paper that tries to deal with too many questions and problems at the same time is naturally lacking focus. The journal and its readers may have difficulties understanding what your contribution is and will turn down your paper. 

20. Questions not answered

If your paper deals with a research question but then fails to provide an answer on it, you will get rejected. It sounds as if you are promising something without delivering it. 

21. Paper length

If your paper is very long and repetitive in parts, readers will not enjoy it and editors may therefore decide to decline it from the start. 

22. Lacking validity of results

If your results are not robust and reliable, your findings can rather be perceived as a suggestion than an answer on your research question. For your peers, such a paper is of low value as they cannot build on it and relate their findings to yours. Editors will decline its publication. 

 23. Lacking interpretation of results

Sometimes, results without interpretation are meaningless. If your paper makes no attempt to explain, discuss and justify your results in the wider context, it will be very critically looked at by reviewers, editors and peers and eventually declined. 

24. Lack of critical reflection of the methods

In a perfect world, you would have all the resources and knowledge available to address your paper’s research question in the best way. In reality, this is not always the case, thus there are some limitations that require critical reflection on your methods. If you are unaware of or ignoring potential limitations you risk rejection.  

25. One more

… for sure there are many more reasons why a paper could be rejected. If you have experienced any reasons that are not listed here, send us a message to info@tressacademic.com . We love to hear your experiences! 

Conclusion

At the end of this list, we don’t want you to feel discouraged and think “Oh my dear, all those things could happen? Should I actually submit a paper at all? There are so many reasons why the journal could turn down my paper.”

Yes, you should prepare and submit a paper! It is not always like this that every single of the 25 reasons above is leading automatically to rejection. Often editors see several reasons involved when they reject a paper. Now, since you know what could happen, you can prepare yourself to write the paper in a way that this is NOT going to happen. 

If you are uncertain in how far these reasons will challenge your paper, then download our free worksheet “Assessing rejection risk”. It will help you to identify which aspects you should improve in your paper writing to ban the risk of rejection. 

The great thing is that all of the above-mentioned reasons for rejection can be avoided. We provide a wide array of tools, guidelines and worksheets to help you with these (have a look at the relevant resources below). If you want to learn step-by-step how to get around all of them and write a paper yourself in the most efficient way, join our live-online course “How to publish in peer-reviewed journals”. It covers all topics above and guides you smoothly through the paper-writing process.  

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