Last week, I explored How to Select the Journal for Publication of your manuscript. Different journals have different rates of rejection. Nevertheless, it’s discouraging if your paper is rejected, with no invitation to revise and resubmit. After you’ve chosen the journal for submission and have gone through the intense effort of writing and editing your manuscript, you want to ensure it has the best possible chance of not being rejected outright.
Let’s take a look at the Top Seven Reasons a manuscript is rejected by a journal:
1) The manuscript does not meet the journal’s standards and format.
The topic of your manuscript is outside the scope of the journal. Make sure you’ve reviewed the journal’s Aims and Objectives at the top of their website to ensure your study falls within their parameters.
Ensure your manuscript follows the format required by the journal. In my experience, all journals at least insist on the paper being double-spaced and with a font size of 12 in a classic font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. The journal usually has additional, very specific requirements, such as margin sizes, whether each section should begin on a new page, and whether figures and tables should be included within the text or at the end of the manuscript. Review their instructions carefully before writing the paper, and review them again just before submission.
Also ensure that the references are formatted according to the journal’s requirements.
2) The manuscript does not meet the journal’s space and publication limits.
Check the journal’s limits for word count, number of figures and tables, and number of references. Make sure you stay within these limits, otherwise your paper will be rejected outright before being sent out to reviewers, i.e., a “desk rejection.” Most journals are very strict about the manuscript fitting within these limits and allow no exceptions with the initial submission. If you’re invited to revise and resubmit the paper, the journal may allow some leeway regarding excessive word count in order to meet reviewers’ requests, particularly if you prepare a cover letter addressing this concern.
Ensure the tables and figures are formatted to the journal’s requirements. Take note of special instructions and potential extra costs for colour figures. One of my earliest blogs has helpful tips on Creating Figures for Your Manuscript.
3) The abstract is poorly written or incomplete.
The abstract is the first thing the editor will review. The abstract sets the tone for the quality of the study and the quality of writing in the paper. The decision to reject the manuscript or to send it out for peer review is often based solely on the abstract. Ensure the format of the abstract meets the journal requirements, whether unstructured, or structured in required subsections (e.g., Background and/or Purpose, Methods, Results, Discussion or Conclusion, and Clinical Relevance).
Ensure the writing is concise. Ensure the abstract correctly captures all of the key elements of the study as reported in the full manuscript.
4) Discrepancies in the text.
If the text in the manuscript does not match what is reported in the abstract, a rejection is likely. Similarly, if there are any major discrepancies between what is reported in the tables or figures and what is written in the text in the body of the manuscript, your paper will likely be rejected.
If it is a complicated study with many sets of results, and if the manuscript has gone through many rounds of edits with several co-authors, such mismatches and errors are likely to occur. Shortly before submission, go through the paper carefully once more, specifically to ensure all terms and numbers in the text correspond exactly to those found in the tables and figures.
5) Incomplete Methods.
While you want to keep the Methods section as brief as possible, it needs to be complete. A reader must be able to duplicate your research based on the details provided in this section. To stay within word limits, you may want to move some of the material (such as Inclusion and Exclusion criteria) into a Table or an Appendix (if the journal allows these).
6) Results and Discussion don’t correspond.
If the analyses in the Results report clinically insignificant results, don’t talk about potentially meaningful trends in the Discussion. Don’t make conclusions that aren’t supported by the reported results. Ensure the main points in the Discussion correspond to the main points in the Results. And ensure the Results are presented according to the primary and secondary aims you’ve listed in your purpose statement.
7) Language errors.
Having a few “typos” or a couple of cases of poor grammar is not a problem. Even the best of us can miss one or two, despite multiple, careful edits. But if these errors appear repeatedly, or if words are used inappropriately or incorrectly throughout the paper and make it difficult for the reviewer to understand the results and concepts of your study, your paper will likely be rejected.
Make sure the language is consistent. Use acronyms sparingly (see my #WeeklyWritingTip on When Is It OK To Use Acronyms?).
All right, once you’ve taken all of the above items into account, ask a trusted colleague to review your paper. They’ll have a fresh set of eyes to catch any errors, and they can provide valuable suggestions on how to improve your paper before submission. Or you can ask me for help, at any step in your writing process. I take all of the above into account when copy-editing your manuscript.
Was this blog helpful? I welcome your comments and feedback, and I look forward to receiving topic suggestions for future tips.
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