Top Reasons for the Rejection of Research Papers

A manuscript goes through critical evaluation when submitted to a journal for publication.  Even before getting selected for peer review, it has to pass the initial assessment and then a final assessment by the editor-in-chief.

For these reasons, rejections are considered very common in the world of publications. There are many reasons why manuscripts are rejected. However, researchers should also understand that the majority of these factors are within their control and, if considered with care, can enhance the probability of manuscript acceptance.

The quality of the research is not the only factor to be taken into consideration. It is equally important to prepare the manuscript according to the rules of the journal for publication. Dr. Peter Thrower is the editor-in-chief of the Carbon which is the international journal of the American Carbon Society, and according to Dr. Peter, the authors and researchers can save us time and frustration if they focus on the little mistakes and make sure the work is accepted due to its academic merit and research quality and not rejected by the mistakes in it.

The following are some major reasons that lead to the rejection of your manuscript. The reasons are divided into two categories:

  1. Editorial Reasons
  2. Technical Reasons

Since the editorial review is the first part of the manuscript evaluation in most of the peer-reviewed journals, it is important to focus on the editorial reasons to make sure the manuscript passes the first phase of evaluation and is forwarded to the managing editor or editor-in-chief of the journal. Editorial reasons such as the following are important to focus on:

1. The manuscript does not fall within the journal’s aim and scope

The aim and scope of one journal vary from another, the details of which are normally available on their website. The essential thing to do before preparing your manuscript is to go in detail through the instructions for the authors on the website of the journal. This will help you focus on the fundamentals and avoid the errors, thereby adding value to your research work and reducing the chances of rejection. It also appeals to the reader once published by the journal because it falls within the scope and aim of the journal. It is imperative to first learn about the scope and aim of the journal you want to send your manuscript to. A researcher would normally not rely on just one journal and would end up sending his manuscript to many, but not simultaneously. The best tip here is to list down all the journals relevant to your research work and start with the one you like the most.

2. Paper is under review at another journal

Most of the journals do not entertain your paper if it is under review by another journal. This is clearly written in the “instructions to the author” on the website of the journal. Therefore, it is a good idea to send your manuscript to one journal at a time. However, to save your time, you can send pre-submission inquiries to several journals at the same time.

3. Writing is incomprehensible

Your manuscript may be incomprehensible if you make use of poor or jargon English. Almost all the journals want your manuscript to be written in the simplest way possible. Make sure there are no or less technical terminologies used in your manuscript because not all the people who read your manuscript understand the technical terms. It is equally important to focus on grammar, spellings, and other important text elements such as a list of authors, affiliations, figures, and tables. If these factors are missing or are not given proper attention, it will take the publisher a little time to reject your manuscript. There are lots of tools available that can help you refine your research writing.

4. Doesn’t conform to the writing style of the journal

Another very important but often ignored factor that leads to manuscript rejection is the writing style of the journal. Each journal provides different writing guidelines, which may include font type, font size, references, spaces, margins, and other details. Not following the writing guidelines proposed by the journal is the most common reason for manuscript rejection. This is common among fresh and early career researchers. Researchers make use of a typist to auto-format the font according to the guidelines of any journal within seconds.

5. This manuscript doesn’t meet the standards of our journal

Drafting just a manuscript is not enough and does not guarantee you will get your paper published. It should meet the standards of the journal you want to publish your paper at. If your study falls outside the scope of the journal or is just a rephrase of previous journals, you may face rejection. Most of the journals do not reveal the reason for rejection.

Technical reasons for research paper rejection:

Technical reasons are associated with the way you do your research. It is more about your research methodology and hypotheses testing. Research methodology determines the fate of your research paper. It is therefore very important to focus on your research methodology more than anything else. This is crucial because if there is a problem with your research methodology, it will take you a lot time to redo it. Fresh researchers often make technical mistakes such as:

1. Manuscript doesn’t adhere to the IMRD format

Understanding the IMRD format is very important if you want to publish a paper. IMRD stands for Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussions and is the standard for scientific papers. But a majority of the researchers don’t give it much attention, and this leads to serious flaws in the manuscript they send to the journal they want to publish at. According to a study, more than 70% of the submitted manuscripts at an African journal had serious flaws according to the IMRD standard. However, if you focus on this area, the chances of getting your manuscript accepted for peer review are high.

2. Introduction doesn’t match the Discussion or other sections

In order to write a good scientific paper, the introduction of your paper should reflect the discussion section and the results of your research work. This gives rise to a logical flow of ideas from one to the next. This also reflects the importance of a research organization. It is, however, not just a linear assortment of points in a manuscript and means more than that. The ideas in the introduction of your paper will provide an insight into the purpose, context, and scale and scope of your study. This is why it is normally advised to write an introduction in the end to encompass the essentials. Those who write the introduction before drafting the manuscript to end up missing essential content which drags them into hot water

3. Abstract content is erroneous or contains missing information

An abstract provides a first impression of all your hard work and research findings, so it should be drafted in the best way possible. Including extra content or excluding the important ones may spoil the scope of your manuscript because it is the first part, the editors look at. If your first impression is good, the probability of getting your manuscript accepted rises exponentially. On the other hand, a mistake here would mean a straight rejection and an opportunity wasted, which you do not want.

4. The title doesn’t match the manuscript’s focus.

The title of your research paper is the most important part, as it appears in database searches and on the very top of your manuscript. It represents the theme of your manuscript, so try to have the best title,one that is catchy and interesting. There are two common problems with titles:

  • The title is too long to be fit for the journal’s readership.
  • The focus or scope does not represent the body of the paper.

5. Unclear hypothesis.

It is important to start your research with a hypothesis based on previous researches. Based on your hypothesis, you carry out different tests and prove it right or wrong. However, if your hypothesis is not clear or is wrong, or if it has already been explored, you may face rejection.

6. Poor Analysis.

Statistical analyses are normally based on data. Secondary data is made available by various organizations, so it is important to have your statistical analyses correct and reproducible. In addition, you need to choose the appropriate technique to analyze the results of your research. Using inappropriate statistical tools may give you wrong results and can be the reason for a possible rejection by the journal.

7. Violation of research ethics.

In a manuscript, you also need to acknowledge and take the written consent of the participants (if any). You also need to declare that the research has been carried out solely by you and is free of plagiarism. Failing to comply with any of these factors will lead to possible rejection by a journal, on the grounds of violation of research ethics.

Publishing a paper on the first attempt is not easy and is pretty rare even for good researchers, let alone for the fresh researchers. However, knowledge of what to do and what not to do can save hard work and time.

How to avoid mistakes?

The following are a few tips that can help you avoid mistakes while drafting a manuscript.

What to do when the manuscript does not adhere to the IMRD format?

Review the IMRD structure of your journal and compare it with your manuscript. You will see a visible and clear contradiction between your manuscript IMRD and that in the journal guidelines. Even if you are expert in research and understand the IMRD concept, it is still a good idea to review the journal guidelines because different journals may have different IMRD guidelines. These guidelines tell you what to include and what not to include while drafting your manuscript.

What to do if the introduction does not match the Discussion or other sections?

It is a good idea to write the introduction after drafting the manuscript. Or write the introduction before writing the conclusion of an already drafted manuscript. This helps you pen down the kind of introduction that has a step by step flow of ideas.  If you write the introduction at the start of drafting your manuscript, you may end up including redundant information that might disturb the linear assortment of your ideas. Therefore a good and elucidated summary of your paper in the introduction section can make a good impression on the editor.

What to do if the abstract content is erroneous?

An abstract is normally the first part of your manuscript, but it is wise to write the abstract once you are done with the rest of the manuscript. You need to take meticulous care that all the information is coherent, and there are no inconsistencies in the abstract. Since the abstract is normally very short, you need to understand the main points in your research and include them in the abstract. Including redundant material may spoil the merit of your research work. As you give ending touches to your manuscript, make sure all the information in your abstract is up-to-date and precise.

What to do if the title doesn’t match the focus of the manuscript?

Sharpen your title!

Think of the title of your manuscript as a slogan or mission statement. Like the best companies in the world have really catchy brand slogans, you need to have the best mission statement in the form of the title. Your manuscript title should not exceed the scope of your research work. It should just encompass what is in your research. It should be short and catchy just to appear in the database searches. Most of the journals do not like too many long titles, so make sure you do not include any redundant words in your title. Make sure you do not try to explain the method of your study. Exclude the overused keywords such as “the long-term implications of” etc. and use a keyword that might interest researchers. It is normally a bit tough and time consuming to come up with the best title, but it is worth the effort.

How to respond to journal rejection?

If a journal rejects your manuscript, it means you made some mistakes in drafting your manuscript. Or you have chosen the wrong journal for your paper. Some journals may tell you the reasons for rejection too. Just go through what is lacking in your manuscript and work on the flaws you are making. Make sure your research has an academic contribution, significance to the field you are working in and is original and reproducible. You may also have a meeting with your supervisor or a fellow researcher to discuss such issues.

Here are a few questions to focus on:

  1. Is your research methodology correct?
  2. Is your IMRD structure correct?
  3. Are the tables and figures precisely labeled and interpreted?
  4. Is the language you have used simple and perfect?

If you still need help with drafting your manuscript, you may hire the services of professionals who are normally experienced and good at drafting manuscripts. If everything goes well, you will end up having your paper published.

Good Luck!

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