Why Are Academic Papers Rejected and How Can You Prevent That?

Aug 20, 2021 Ver este post en Español

Academic writing gives us new perspectives and advances knowledge by providing evidential support to selected and exciting topics. More often than not, however, academic papers don’t make it to journal publishing. In this article, we will discuss why papers are rejected, how to prevent that from happening, and the next steps following a rejection.

What Is an Academic Paper?

The scope of an academic paper is to persuade readers of an idea or solution to a problem based on evidence instead of personal opinion. Academic writing presents the reader either with a thesis or an informed argument, or both. The research process prior to writing consists of investigation, asking questions, and developing answers which require thoughtful reflection and critical thinking.

Before a paper is accepted for publishing in a journal, it undergoes a peer-review process, completed by researchers in the same field. This process guarantees the article’s academic standard. Learn more about the nine steps for publishing an academic paper for tips on getting your manuscript published.

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As an alternative to this inconvenient process and rejected manuscripts, Orvium benefits from being a preprint and peer-review platform at the same time. Functioning on blockchain technology, it has the potential to change publishing processes as we know them. You can read more about the 7 Benefits of Blockchain in Publishing Platforms in our article.

Reasons Why Academic Papers Are Rejected

Rejection occurs for all types of reasons. It’s not uncommon in academic publishing, unfortunately. It’s rare for researchers to have their research accepted during their first attempt, and it’s much harder for the newcomers. Don’t become discouraged, though. Although rejection isn’t a walk in the park, perseverance, patience, and an interest in advancing science will get you to where you need to be.

Below is a list of some reasons why academic papers are rejected, loosely categorized into editorial and technical reasons:

Editorial Reasons

  • The manuscript does not fall within the journal’s aim or scope - early researchers typically overlook this aspect and send their manuscripts to journals without giving much thought to the value their research adds to the publication and its readers. Since each journal has a well-defined scope, it’s best to look on their website before submission.
  • Paper is under review with another journal - most journals mention in their submission guidelines that they don’t accept a manuscript or paper if it’s under consideration elsewhere. So this type of journal won’t even glance at such a submission. This is an inefficient process compared to Orvium’s model, where anyone can peer-review in parallel and there aren’t such constraints.
  • Doesn’t conform to the writing style of that particular journal - always check the writing guidelines for every journal you’re thinking of submitting to, as every one of them will have different fonts, font sizes, margins, spaces, and referencing styles they prefer. This is one of the most common reasons for rejection, especially within the early researcher community.
  • Writing is incomprehensible - journals usually want manuscripts written in the simplest way possible, so excessive jargon or poor English won’t make the cut. Other reasons such as spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and missing tables, figures, or a list of authors will also not make the cut. If you’re having a hard time with a manuscript, there are 19 tools for researchers to write better to help you.

Technical Reasons

  • Research doesn’t add value to the journal - basically, a journal editor doesn’t find your results significant or novel enough for publishing. This could mean that they think the results will not have far-reaching implications in your field of study or research. Additionally, it’s important for journals with a high impact factor that the research is novel and has not been published before.
  • Unclear hypothesis - if the hypothesis, the original assumption before testing to prove whether it’s true or false, is not clear or explores an already established hypothesis, chances of getting rejected are high.
  • Lack of supporting evidence - collected data is not enough to arrive at the proposed result in the paper. Any data that doesn’t support the original hypothesis will inevitably be rejected.
  • Wrong research methodology - with so many newer, better methods that lead to more accurate results in research available, any use of older research methodology is unacceptable. The assumption will be that the research results are flawed, as there are better research methods.
  • Violation of research ethics - there is a list of research ethics that researchers need to know if they want to avoid misconduct. Taking written consent from any participants, a declaration that the work hasn’t been plagiarized, and other such actions must be complied with. Otherwise, the paper may be rejected on account of a violation of research ethics.

How to Prevent Rejection

If you’ve gotten rejected from more than one journal, there may be a reason for that. Acceptance rates for top-tier journals are very low due to the want to be considered prestigious. Up to 90% rejection rates are not uncommon for some top-tier journals, while others have a rejection rate of about 50%. Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for calculating a journal’s acceptance rate. Therefore, every journal follows an approach they see fit.

For highly specialized fields, if the number of researchers in that particular field of study is low, the acceptance rate is higher. Case reports, for example, might get rejected more often, whereas research articles might not. It all depends on the journal. Some journals include their acceptance rates on their websites. Unfortunately, this means that there is no proven way to prevent rejection, but there are ways to prevent rejection blues:

  • Don’t take anything personally - your rejection has more to do with the way your manuscript is written than with you as a researcher or scientist.
  • Refocus your mind on why you started the article in the first place - this may be to present new findings or advancements in science or medicine.
  • Push through the fear - practice and facing hundreds of previous rejections are the reasons why you’ll be able to act after being rejected instead of simply getting discouraged or giving up.

Rejection is common and inevitable, so instead of focusing on avoiding rejection, researchers should instead focus on their options after rejection.

What Are the Next Steps Following a Rejection?

It’s important to remember that rejection doesn’t mean a poorly written manuscript. Even well-known researchers can and have gotten rejected. But facing rejection after hours of writing, editing, and formatting an article, combined with the months waiting for a journal with high rejection rates to accept it, can be discouraging, to say the least. Don’t give up, though; follow these steps for a better possibility of acceptance next time around:

  • Revise and resubmit to the same journal, or submit to a different journal - although unpleasant for any writer, look at how many revisions you have to do and the effort required to resubmit it to the same journal, and compare it with moving on to submission to another journal. Keep in mind that another journal may have other criteria or a different style format. Check the journal’s website in any case.
  • Persistence and perseverance - you went through the steps, developed a research proposal, got it funded, carefully conducted the study, and objectively analyzed the data. Now, rejection makes you question whether all of it was worth it. Don’t think of publication in a journal as the last step of this long process. You are constantly learning, and editing and resubmission teach you perseverance. Only those who persevere can become successful.
  • Don’t lose heart - rejection and disappointment tend to go hand in hand in this case, especially for early-career researchers, whose careers sometimes depend on publications in journals. There is the possibility of resubmission; however, there are so many tools to help you write better and a plethora of journal options to choose from. If one journal (or two, or three) rejects you, try again and remember that all great work will eventually be published somewhere.

Summing Up

Journals have high standards when it comes to publishing. Great academics and papers get rejected, and this is common. On the one hand, it makes sense for journals to only showcase great work that has the proper research to back it up; conversely, rejection hits everyone differently, and some researchers may give up after too many rejections.

It’s important to remember that rejection could be hard but, sometimes, it’s an unavoidable part of the process. Moreover, this process can help you to better yourself, your writing, and your research. If you received reviews for your manuscript, you now have ideas on how to improve it. There are also many different tools and programs to help you along the way.

Orvium, for example, is a big help for researchers. We get your manuscript ready for publication faster and increase your publishing opportunities with fellow peer-reviewers from your field. Check out our platform, too, for inspiration when researching and writing.


Roberto Rabasco

+10 years’ experience working for Deutsche Telekom, Just Eat or Asos. Leading, designing and developing high-availability software solutions, he built his own software house in '16