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One of the most common fears, when submitting a scientific paper to a journal, is having your hard work rejected. Fortunately, you can avoid many of the common paper rejection reasons. In this article, we cover how to improve a research paper to make it more likely to be accepted, and avoid getting your paper rejected.
What is a desk reject?
A desk reject, also known as a desk rejection, is when your paper is turned down by a journal, prior to them sending it out for review. This type of rejection can feel very disappointing, but don’t get too down on yourself. There are steps you can take to avoid this. But keep in mind, each journal is different, and has different expectations for what needs to be included in a publishable manuscript.
How to improve a research paper
To avoid a desk reject, the first thing you have to do is know your journal. Each publication will have standards and expectations that you can review prior to submitting your manuscript. Before you send it in for consideration, make sure you are following the journal’s guidelines, to the letter.
There are also general improvements you can make to your manuscript to avoid a desk reject. These include:
- Innovate: When a research study is innovative in its approach, it has a much more likely chance of being accepted by a scientific journal. Whenever possible, include a “statement of novelty” in the introduction, and if appropriate, mention this innovation within the abstract and conclusion sections of the paper. Study other papers published by the journal, and in your field, to help write your statement.
- Avoid plagiarism: This goes without saying. If you’ve copied the work, deliberately or otherwise, of other researchers, you may be accused of plagiarism. Publications run manuscripts through different plagiarism detection software programs. If a manuscript shows a duplication of around 20%, the manuscript will be returned for edits to the authors. If that percentage is much higher, the publishers may report the manuscript as plagiarized. You can also be called out if you, effectively, plagiarize your own work by simply repackaging it.
- Appropriate scope: This goes back to understanding the journal, and if your research fits into what the journal wants to publish. A journal’s scope may also be “regional.” In other words, beyond the scientific scope of your manuscript, does it fit with the journal’s specific geographical region. Different journals have different, typically highly specific scopes. Make sure your manuscript is a good fit for your journal of choice.
- Meet required publication format: This would not be the sole reason for a desk reject, but it can compound other shortfalls identified by the editors of a manuscript. Keep in mind, editors reject up to 70% of the manuscripts they receive, so they can be pretty picky. Keep to the format that the journal requests, and this will be one less thing to worry about.
- Excellent manuscript quality: This is another one that goes without saying. But let’s talk about what we specifically mean by this aspect of improving your research paper. In addition to a high-quality and innovative research project, the manuscript must also include sections that are standard to the journal type. For instance, an introduction, materials and methodology, research results, a discussion section, and the conclusion. The manuscript must also explore, usually, not just specific results and conclusions, but how the research may be applied to a more general purpose. For instance, broader impacts and implications of what the specific findings uncover.
- Excellent methodology: Related to the above, if the methodology used in the research is sub-par, the manuscript may be rejected outright. Either the methodology is simplistic, doesn’t take into consideration important details, or isn’t justified within the context of more established approaches.
- Proper grammar or English usage: Many journals are international, and the expected language for submission of a manuscript is English. It is not uncommon for a manuscript to be rejected for the mere fact that the English used in the paper is not up to par for a highly regarded international journal. It’s important that you have a native English speaker, who is also familiar with the topic, review and edit your document. Elsevier offers these services to ensure that poor English usage does not distract from your interesting project.
Getting your research published
In addition to the specific tips above, make sure that your research is being submitted to the journals that best fit your topic. From there, don’t think of your abstract and cover letter as a quick, last-minute thing to attach to the paper. With a strong, convincing cover letter, you can get an audience within the editing staff of many journals. Likewise, if the abstract highlights your innovation, outstanding methodology and your findings and implications clearly, it is easier to make the argument for the publication of your work.
Not sure which journal to choose? To learn more, check out How to Choose a Journal to Submit an Article.
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