Research Tips & Stories for Everyone
Few weeks after your initial submission of the paper, your journey to publish academic paper will face the first pivotal moment – sent out for an external review or desk rejected. In this post, I wish to describe this first editorial decision with my experience with possible suggestions or tips that you might find helpful.
It might be different in each journal, but the first editorial decision to send out for external review or desk reject (or screened) is mostly made by the editor (often with help of the editorial/advisory board of the journal) without in-depth review. Hence, this first editorial decision might reflect various factors such as the journal’s coverage, timeliness of topic, and potential overlap with works under review in the journal on top of the paper’s quality and scientific rigor. As curating appropriate papers to fill the limited space in the journal is the editor’s job, it is something we have to respect not dispute.
As this is the first editorial decision without in-depth review, the possible outcomes are also very simple. Let’s think about good case first – your paper is sent out for an external review! Your paper is one step closer to the publication. In this case, you need to wait until the external referees return their comments and suggestions, based on which the editor would make the next editorial decision. This decision often happens silently without informing the authors although some journals do notify the corresponding author if the editor decides to send out for external review (for example, Nature and its family journals). More commonly, you might be able to see the status change in the manuscript tracking system of each journal (but don’t check too often! Not good for mental health – advice from my experience).
Another possibility is bad news – your paper is desk rejected. Well, this might be quite bitter moment with disappointment. But it should not be taken too badly – the desk rejection is probably the most frequently encountering moment in publication journeys sadly. Some highly competitive journals desk rejects very high fraction of the submitted papers (for example, Science screens 80 % of the submitted papers). But life is going on, so you have to decide the next step picking up your sad mind. One important aspect about the desk rejection is that there are not really many things you can do other than trying other journal in most of cases because it is the editor’s editorial decision, and we have to respect it. Hence, I wish to share my experience with very rough category (which is definitely personal not generalizable):
Category I – Desk rejection without any specific reason/detail
In this case, the rejection decision email contains only common phrases without any specific reason/detail from the editor as the basis of desk rejection. This is probably the hardest type to decipher as there is no clue on what can be improved. However, it is pretty common and there can be myriad editorial reasons behind it. It’s time to search another journal to submit.
Category II – Desk rejection with specific reason/detail
In this case, the rejection decision email may contain some specific reasons/details that the editor considered as the basis of desk rejection. It’s very thankful that the editor spent time to share their thought on the work as you might be able to reflect them when you submit to another journal.
Category III – Desk rejection with erroneous specific reason/detail
In this super rare case, the rejection decision email may contain some specific reasons/details that the editor considered as the basis of desk rejection but with error (for example, concerns on the lack of certain detail/data which are actually included in the submitted work). Importantly, the error should be really error not disagreement on subjective evaluation of the work. In this case, you can potentially consider to politely remind the editor about the error although it is again totally up to the editor whether the correction of error would change the editorial decision.
Well, this is it. But I have something more to share. When I did not have much experience on the paper publication, the desk rejection without review was one of the most stressful and saddened moment, probably because the disappointment you would feel might be proportional to the care and love you gave to your paper. It’s your baby, so seeing your baby being rejected even without careful look breaks your heart. I wish to share some perspectives that helped me to deal with it over time. Hopefully these would be helpful for you as well:
Its editorial decision not rejection on the value of your work. Yes, it’s editorial decision that the editor has to make for various reasons beyond the quality of each paper – so let’s don’t take it personal. In some sense, it’s just routine business in academia.
Take it as another chance to improve your work more. Showing your work to peer reviewers is nervous process and you would love to be perfect before it. Seeing a bit differently, you got another chance to improve your work more. It’s not a bad thing!
Share the feeling with your co-authors and colleagues. Human is social and emotional animals. It is totally natural to be disappointed sometimes and it is great thing to share it with your co-authors and colleagues. It’s something everybody in academia can be whole heartedly sympathetic to you, sharing their own tearful stories and eventual happy ending.
What’s next is the return of reviewer’s comments and suggestions after review along with the editor’s decision to whether take revision or reject. We may cover the revision case in the next post.
Part I: Overview
Part II: Presubmission Inquiry & Initial Submission
Part III: Desk Rejected, What Can be Next Step? (this post)
Part IV: Revision, Art of Rebuttal
Part V: Rejected After Review, End of World?
Part VI: Acceptance & Post-Acceptance Jobs
Disclaimer. The contents are my personal opinion and do not represent the view of any institution or company I am affiliated/employed. If you find any incorrect information, please feel free to let me know via my email.