Why Journals Reject Manuscripts

November 5, 2015

This week, the Washington Post reported that a study highlighting the stunning rise in the death rate of middle-aged American whites was rejected by two prestigious journals before finally being published by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was conducted by Angus Deaton and Anne Case, both distinguished Princeton economists, and Dr Deaton the recent recipient of a Nobel Prize. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine would not comment on why the pair’s study was rejected. It got us to thinking here at OSE, regardless of whether you’re a world class economist, what could be the primary reasons a journal might reject your manuscript? Here’s our summary of the most likely :

Topic Relevancy – whether it is related to the specific journal or the discipline in general, has your study really looked at something that has not already been covered? Science builds upon itself and, given the ready access to global information, it’s not unusual that the same topics are being studied simultaneously in different parts of the world. Have you done a sufficient search of the literature to believe that the study topic offers a fresh perspective on an area of enquiry? Would the study offer conclusions that could be clinically significant? More and more, funding agencies are looking for results that could have implications toward morbidity and mortality, not only regarding health but also environmental science, food science, anything that could have an economic impact on a country’s bottom line.

Study Design – Designing a study requires dispassionate and critical thinking. In fact, some would argue, it’s important to approach a study topic by looking hard for its weaknesses. Even if your results appear rock solid, it is important to design and describe your study in a way that makes clear your hypothesis, method description, sample size, controls, confounders and a proficient use of statistics.

Interpretations – Interpretations need also be unbiased. This is certainly an exercise in rejecting the human tendency to see what you most want to see.  Are your conclusions disproportionate to your results? Are your conclusions clearly supported by the data? Are there any unexplained inconsistencies? Don’t let a vested interest in a particular outcome inflate the importance of your findings.

Poor Presentation – Communication is key. Poorly written papers will bias a journal editor from the start, which in turn may lead to the suspicion that your entire study was done poorly. Regardless of your primary language, poor grammar, syntax or spelling shows disregard for the reader and the work. As reported in an earlier blog post (Why Translation and Editing Software is Bad for Your Reputation), running your manuscript through a translation and/or editing software program often doesn’t come close to producing a readable product. Get a peer review and a human editor.

Every scientific study has potential to add another small building block to our understanding of the way things work. Do not let these common mistakes regarding submissions to a respected journal delay the contribution that your work could make to your field of interest.

Oxford Science Editing specializes in high quality language optimisation by scientist editors, all of whom have advanced degrees. We pair you with an editor who is already well versed in your field and offer peer review-level feedback. Contact us or email info@oxfordscienceediting.com for more information.