Why Manuscripts Are Rejected - From Trepidation to a First Draft - Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Why Manuscripts Are Rejected
From Trepidation to a First Draft
Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

One of the burning questions related to publication is “Why are manuscripts rejected?” or, more specifically, “Why was my manuscript rejected?” The reasons for manuscript rejection are varied. Some of the most common include:

· Lack of familiarity with the audience. This is the leading reason for manuscript rejection. For example, an author sent a research article about psycholinguistics with a very complex statistical analysis and excessive jargon to a publication that is mainly for practitioners—definitely a mismatch between manuscript and readership.

· Failure to investigate the outlet. Authors sometimes submit manuscripts without ever looking at the articles that have been published in the journal previously in terms of content, writing style, and format. If, for example, the journal just devoted an entire issue to the topic of the author’s paper then it is unlikely that the editor will want to devote even more journal space to that subject.

· Resistance to recommendations for revision. The writing needs to be readable and present a logical progression of ideas. Some authors operate under the misconception that the brilliance of their ideas will compensate for poorly written prose.

· Disregard for submission guidelines. If the journal sets a page limit of 25, 12-point print pages with everything double spaced, some authors will submit a manuscript in 10-point print with some sections single spaced in the hope that no one will notice. Other format requirements, such as supplying an abstract and key words for indexing purposes often are overlooked. Even if a manuscript is deemed worthy of publication, every time that authors ignore submission guidelines, it slows down the process. In fact, one editor of a journal with an almost 2-year lag time between acceptance and publication of articles sent out a letter to the authors indicating that articles prepared in accordance with the guidelines would be moved to the head of the line.

· Insufficient originality/contribution. Reviewers and editors hope to see manuscripts that advance the professional conversation rather than reiterate ideas that are widely understood and available elsewhere in the literature. Although there are timeless messages that bear re-examination, even these manuscripts are expected to demonstrate originality by taking a fresh perspective or attaining a high level of synthesis/evaluation. For example, one editor had received several manuscripts about the “obesity epidemic” in the United States, each of them citing statistics and discussing the problem. It was not until a manuscript that described the characteristics of effective interventions was submitted that it earned acceptance from the editor and reviewers.

· Numerous errors. These can range from major conceptual flaws or errors of fact, to grammatical or spelling errors. Each mistake becomes a demerit as peers review the work. Editors sometimes admit to a “three strikes and you’re out” approach because careless errors reflect unfavorably on the author’s scholarship and call into question other issues related to accuracy and attention to detail.

· Misunderstanding of the editor’s and reviewers’ roles. Editors and reviewers are gatekeepers in the sense that they make judgments about the quality of each manuscript. When the anonymous peer review system works well, they assess the work that is in front of them without other identifying information about the authors. They function as experts, representatives of the publication, and advocates for the readers. It is not their job to assist faculty who are desperate to get published; rather, their job is to decide whether or not what was submitted is publishable or nearly publishable. For example, a team of international authors, when given the opportunity to revise and resubmit, accused the editor of “educational imperialism.” Yet if these same authors were reviewers of manuscripts submitted to a journal printed in their first language, they would no doubt expect it to be well written and free of errors, even if the authors were writing in their second language. There can be no double standard when it comes to peer review.

The reasons for manuscript rejection are varied (see Table 3.2).

Table 3.2

Common reasons for manuscript rejection

The submission is not within the journals scope; for example, a practical article is submitted to a journal that publishes empirical research only

The manuscript obviously was written for another purpose; for example, as a report to the funder for a grant, as a thesis or dissertation, or an in-house “white paper” for a particular university

The material is a rehash of what is widely understood; in other words, it does not offer anything new, advance thinking, or make a contribution to in the field

The type of manuscript is not sought; for example, the manuscript is written as an editorial when only the editor writes them

The manuscript is not a distinct manuscript type (i.e., theoretical, practical, research) and instead is a confusing mixture; for example, a practical article has been written as if it were original research

The writing is not of publishable quality (i.e., poorly organized, poorly written, not prepared in the required referencing style); the revisions required are substantive and would demand too much of the editors’ and reviewers’ time

The manuscript includes major errors; for example, the names of leaders in the field are misspelled, study findings are misinterpreted in the literature review, or guidelines for the ethical treatment of human subjects are in question

The manuscript has many minor errors (i.e., syntax, punctuation, spelling) but they are so numerous that they call into question the author’s credibility

The manuscript does not conform to the format guidelines and the manuscript is prepared in the wrong referencing style (i.e., APA Style instead of Chicago Style or APA 5th Edition rather than APA 6th edition)

Online Tool 

Refer the American Psychological Association’s “Learning APA Style” for free tutorials, examples, and answers to many questions about scholarly writing such as bias-free language, grammar, ethics, the use of headings, how to prepare tables/figures, and more at http://apastyle.org/learn/