When you submit a new article to a journal, you’re probably wondering what the reviewers will say about it. But before your paper is sent out for peer review, the journal staff will have a look at it and decide whether to send your article out for review at all. Some articles never make it past this step and receive a quick desk rejection without being assigned an editor or sent for review.
You can avoid this fate by taking note of some of the main reasons why a journal might not consider your article for peer review. Even though you can’t predict what your reviewers will say, you can at least make the best effort to ensure that your article makes it to peer review in the first place.
Article topic is not within journal scope
One of the first things a journal will notice is whether the article you submitted covers a topic relevant to their readers. Some journals cover a broad range of topics, and this is less of an issue, but others specialize in a narrower field, such as molecular biology or organic chemistry. If your article is mainly of interest for researchers outside of the journal’s readership, don’t be surprised if you receive a quick rejection from the editor. To avoid this problem, do some research to find journals that best match your discipline or the topic of your paper.
Article type doesn’t match what the journal usually publishes
Every journal covers a certain type of article. While research articles that describe a recent discovery are most common, you may also be familiar with journals that only publish review articles or methods, for example. Many journals will publish a combination of article types, and may have space for shorter articles, opinions, reviews, and a number of others. To make sure you’re sending your work to the right journal, do some research into the content that different publications will accept.
Some journals also consider the research advances described in your paper. While certain journals accept papers that cover replication studies, incremental advances or negative results, others may not include these. Always check previous issues of the journal and their website to make sure that your article is the type of work they usually publish.
Article does not follow basic journal guidelines
Each journal has their own instructions for authors to ensure that articles they receive are complete and ready to send out for review. They’ll have certain guidelines for the word length of your manuscript, or requirements for file types. You may also be asked to include underlying data, provide funding details or include information on ethics approval where relevant. Because the instructions may change over time, and because not every journal has the same requirements, it’s a good idea to always check before you submit. It will make it easier to process your submission, and you’re less likely to be asked to reformat and resubmit.
The writing doesn’t meet basic standards
Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect, but your paper should be understood by the people who read it so that they can assess it properly. Many journals will not send a paper out for review if there are too many language mistakes in it, or if it’s very difficult to follow along with even the basic outline of your paper. After all, if it’s difficult to read, it will be even more difficult for peer reviewers to assess the quality of your research.
Before sending off your paper, take some time to focus on the writing. Make sure to check spelling and grammar and fix any typos or unclear sentences. (Don’t forget to check your figure legends as well.) If you need help with writing, some journals will be able to recommend language editing services.
Problems with references
Another aspect of your article that editors will take a look at before sending it out to peer review is the reference section. They’ll notice if your citations don’t seem to match the topic of your paper, or if there aren’t as many as they would expect. They might also spot self-citations at this stage, where authors have mainly cited their own work and not that of other researchers. All of these are red flags that may get your article rejected before a reviewer even sees it. So make sure to cite all relevant articles that inform your research and that you used to write your paper.
Missing author information
Many journals request certain information about the authors listed on the paper. Besides name and affiliation, they might want contact information and details about the contribution of each author to the manuscript. If this information is missing, you’ll likely get a request to submit the missing details before your article is sent for review. If you can’t provide the required information for all of your co-authors, your article might be refused to consider for review.
Plagiarism and self-plagiarism
Finally, many journals do a plagiarism check before peer review. If this flags up considerable overlap between your paper and existing publications, this may prevent you from progressing further through the review process. To prevent this, get in the habit of never copy-pasting text from other sources as you’re taking notes for your paper.
This is also true if you include text from any of your own papers! Even though they’re your words, you won’t be able to publish them twice. If you do want to mention something again, paraphrase it and always cite the source. Even if you don’t use the exact same words you can run the risk of being rejected if your article is very similar to an article you’ve previously published and covers the same research, or if you’ve split your findings into multiple separate manuscripts (salami slicing).
By being aware of the different reasons an article might be rejected before being assigned a handling editor, you can make efforts to avoid this, and give your manuscript the best chance of being sent to peer reviewers.
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