Common errors leading to journal article rejection
According to the American Psychological Association’s Summary Report of Journal Operations, 2016, the 29 journals included in the report received a combined total of 12,166 submitted manuscripts with an overall rejection rate of 71%. This means that on average less than 3 of every 10 submitted manuscripts is accepted for publication.
To better understand the common reasons journal articles are rejected, we sought the insight of several TAA members experienced in the academic journal article publishing process.
Katie Van Heest, an editor at Tweed Editing, identified a common error leading to rejection by journals as “not following submission guidelines!” Noting the routine provision of guideline information on journal websites, Van Heest says, “Complying with a publication’s formatting and style preferences shouldn’t be considered a tedious matter of jumping through arbitrary hoops: it’s an opportunity to help the editors and peer reviewers envision the article fitting right in with their journal! It’s effort well spent.”
Michael Greer, editor of Research in Online Literacy Education (ROLE) – a peer-reviewed digital journal published by the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators, says that “the most common error is submitting a manuscript that is not a good fit for the journal.” Echoing Van Heest, Greer says: “Usually, this is caused by a failure to read submission guidelines,” adding, “or lack of familiarity with the focus of a particular journal.”
“Be a fan of a journal before you submit” is the advice of John Bond, a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting, with more than 10 years of journal publishing experience. Noting the same issue mentioned by Greer caused by a lack of familiarity with a journal, Bond says that “many potential authors did not read or know a journal prior to submission and therefore did not understand its mission.” Being a fan before you submit – or at least reading the journal beforehand – will, as Bond says, “prevent you trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”
Greer adds the following advice: “As a journal editor, I encourage authors to contact me with a short email, to propose a topic and start a conversation very early in the process. This avoids the problem of an author going too far down the road with a topic or approach that is not a good fit.” Ensuring that your work is a good fit with a particular journal prior to submission improves the potential of acceptance upon review.
However, even if your manuscript follows the submission guidelines and is a good fit for the journal to which you are submitting, there may be other reasons a reviewer might reject the article. JoAnn Barbour, professor and department chair in the Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, has served as a reviewer for at least nine different journals or groups in her tenure. She shared some insight into the role of a reviewer and additional reasons for rejecting article submissions.
As a reviewer, Barbour says that her job is to “follow the review guidelines/criteria for acceptable submissions.” From this perspective, she says, “I really try not to reject a submission. Rather, I review as a ‘friendly critic’ with suggestions that might get the article a second look in a re-draft with updates.” Minor revisions and resubmission may produce different results.
A common problem that may be easily fixed for resubmission, according to Barbour, is when the “purpose of study and/or of article is not specific, so the findings or conclusions are somewhat suspect or ambiguous.” Barbour says, “sometimes, it is a matter of asking the author to revise a bit and place a purpose statement in the first paragraph or so.” She adds, “Usually works.”
Other problems, notes Barbour, that have caused her not to accept a submission include: flawed methodology, thematic issues where the submission is not fitting to the theme of a particular edition of the journal, and poor writing with grammatical errors and lacking flow, organization, or cohesion. Her response, as a reviewer, is different for each, and always fits her role as a “friendly critic”. For example, she may suggest resubmitting with the use of a different methodology, or submitting to a more appropriate journal for the work.
Based on the insight from these members and their experience in the academic journal publishing process, hopefully you are prepared to avoid some of the common errors leading to journal article rejection. However, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a rejection from a reviewer, look for suggestions from a “friendly critic” who may have really tried not to reject your submission in the first place. Then revise accordingly and resubmit.