Rejection without review- the Editor’s side of the story

In common with the majority of journals which publish high quality research, JHND receives many more articles than we could reasonably expect to publish and indeed, the ability to review all manuscripts received is limited. Like most of our competitors we find our team rejects a proportion of our papers without sending them for peer review. Although we are not in the same league as journals like Nature or Science (reject about 90%. purely on the basis of editorial assessment), JHND still rejects approximately 15-20% of manuscript submissions on this basis. Decisions to immediately reject are generally made by myself following careful consideration of the abstract and methodology, and where necessary I will pass them to the appropriate associate editor for a second opinion. It may seem unreasonable to not ask reviewers for an opinion on every paper and avoid the risk of missing out on publishing a truly wonderful, discipline-changing paper. It is worth remembering that every paper that goes for review will be looked at by at least 2 expert referees and that these are busy people, who are sometimes very difficult to track down (for the average paper we invite 6 reviewer just to secure 2 reviews). We see little value in asking them to review papers which are obviously of low quality, with obvious flaws. This may use up their patience and goodwill and make the review of future manuscripts challenging.

As an author I too have been on the end of decisions to reject without a review (far too often in fact) and I appreciate that it can be a painful experience. The impression it gives is that the journal has not given you a fair crack of the whip, or that a biased editor has acted as judge, jury and executioner, particularly as the automated system will almost certainly send out an impersonal email that does not explain the reason for the rejection.  Although in the paragraph above I have highlighted the fact that we don’t want to send low quality papers out to reviewers, a rejection without review does not mean that your paper is bad, or that you have been engaged in flawed science. More often the view of the editorial team is that the manuscript doesn’t fit with the scope of the journal, or that it would not be of high priority for publication over some of the other papers that we have in the system. Maybe the work is not sufficiently novel or topical.

The good news about being rejected quickly is that you don’t suffer a lengthy delay in getting your manuscript prepared to go to a different journal. JHND will attempt to get a decision like this back to you within 72 hours of submission. This is of course small consolation, but is a significant gain over waiting for maybe 6 weeks to get a rejection decision, which can often be just as abrupt and disappointing as the rejection without review. As always, when faced with rejection, don’t be too discouraged and don’t give up. One of my old mentors once told me that to be successful in research I would need to have a hide like a rhino. This was good advice as rejection (which is of course ALWAYS totally unreasonable) is a regular occurrence and perseverance and sheer bloody-minded determination is an essential characteristic. It is worth noting that two of my most successful papers had very rocky beginnings.

Langley SC, Jackson AA (1994). Increased systolic blood pressure in adult rats, induced by fetal exposure to maternal low protein diets. Clin. Sci. 86 217-222.

This paper has now been cited by almost 500 other papers and is the basis for a huge body of further research around the world, but was rejected without review by 4 journals before being accepted by Clinical Science, who published a commentary alongside it which challenged the findings very strongly. Incidentally, when I presented the same data at a conference I was more or less laughed off the platform and my abstract was rejected from the conference proceedings.

Langley-Evans SC, Phillips GJ, Benediktsson R, Gardner DS, Edwards CRW, Jackson AA, Seckl JR (1996). Protein intake in pregnancy, placental glucocorticoid metabolism and the programming of hypertension in the rat. Placenta 17 169-172.

This paper has been cited close to 300 times and was rejected without review by at least 4 journals. Placenta was the 7th journal it was submitted to.

So you see, it happens to everybody and it happens to important work. As an author you have to look carefully at how you present the key sections of your work (the abstract and title are incredibly important) and to consider the target journal closely. Do you fit their remit? Have they published work that is similar to yours? If in doubt, ask the Editor first- check that your work is likely to be of interest. It could save you a lot of formatting time and frustration.

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