You saw a new email coming from a journal regarding the status of your manuscript submission. You have been waiting for that particular email since forever and it finally came. However, the content of that letter was not what you expected.
It was a rejection letter along with not-so-positive comments from reviewers. Your heart sank. All of a sudden, you felt that all of your hard work went down the drain with that letter. You even started to doubt yourself.
Before your self-confidence falls apart even more, you must remember that authors of research papers deal with the rejection of their research manuscripts or grant proposals regularly. At this point, the key is to not take the rejection of your manuscript personally. Instead, start planning your next steps. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Therefore, in this article, we talk about how to process manuscript (or grant) rejection and to turn your rejected manuscript into a published paper.
Types of Manuscript Rejection
The first thing to do is to reread and analyze the rejection letter you received. You should read all the instructions in that letter carefully.
In some cases, you may just need to clarify and rewrite your paragraphs to address some concerns and questions from the reviewers. On the other hand, those reviewers may also want you to do extra experiments to strengthen your results and conclusions.
Below are different types of rejection letters from the journal editor (Roediger III et al., 2019, pg. 142-143):
In this type of rejection, the editor rejects your manuscript without sending it out to reviewers.
In this rejection, your manuscript receives two or more negative reviews from outside reviewers. As a result, there is no chance to resubmit your manuscript to the original journal.
In this case, the editor informs you that you will be able to submit your manuscript after you make changes suggested by the reviewers. The editor will send your revised manuscript for re-review by the original reviewers.
This rejection letter acts as a provisional-acceptance letter. In this letter, the editor requires you to make relatively minor changes before resubmission. Then, the editor will check with the quality of those changes and often accept your manuscript for publication without re-review.
Although rarely discussed, most researchers need time to process this and deal with a manuscript rejection letter.
Stages to Process Your Manuscript Rejection
For early career scientists, coping with manuscript rejection is a beneficial skill to learn. The stages to processing a rejection letter are very similar to the stages of grief.
Here are some stages you can go through before resubmitting your manuscript (Roediger III et al., 2019, pg. 144-145):
In this stage, it’s difficult for you to receive the reviewer’s criticism, because you worked hard and felt your manuscript was excellent.
After denial, you feel extremely upset about the comments of the editors and reviewers. To recover from this; try to calm yourself, stay away from that email for few days, and talk to your colleague, your mentor, or even a professional counselor about it. However, refrain from sending a protest email to the editor and complaining about the reviewers, because you may regret your action later.
This is the point when you reflect on the criticism of the reviewers and think they actually make some good points.
After you decide to talk to your co-authors, you realize that you will be the one doing additional laboratory work and writing to address the reviewer’s comments. Then, you start to get overwhelmed.
This is the last and the most important stage when finally you are willing to do the laboratory works and make the changes needed for the resubmission.
Since this experience is common among researchers, if you think you need it, give yourself some time to recover from rejection. After you are all set, you can start planning for the manuscript resubmission.
Strategies to Get Your Manuscript Published
The next step is to decide the fate of your manuscript; whether you are going to resubmit it to the same journal or to a new journal (Sullivan, 2015). After analyzing the type of rejection letter, you can get a hint on whether the original journal will be interested in your manuscript after resubmission.
If there is a good chance of acceptance, make the changes and resubmit to the same journal.
However, if you think the chance of acceptance is slim, consider resubmitting to a new journal. To submit to a new journal, read and follow the author instructions of a new journal of your interest.
Resubmitting to the Same Journal
Keep in mind that the same journal can reject your manuscript again after resubmission. Therefore, if you plan to resubmit to the same journal, make sure that you can reasonably address all the reviewer’s comments.
If there are some comments that you won't be able to address, consult with the editor of the journal. If you skip addressing a specific comment, it would prevent future acceptance of the manuscript. If the journal editor approves your revision plan, you must then carefully make the changes required by the editor and reviewers.
For any changes you make, you should refer to the page and paragraph numbers in the revised manuscript (Wong, 2019). Start by addressing the easy changes (such as rewording, adding references, and changing technical errors) (Wong, 2019). Then, work on the more difficult ones, such as performing additional experiments, fixing tables, adding figures, and rearranging paragraphs.
If you suspect there are biased reviews, appeal to the editor for reconsideration of your rejected manuscript. In this case, you should clarify an incorrect reading of your manuscript or improper suggestions by the reviewer. In addition, state valid arguments why your manuscript should be reevaluated.
Resubmitting to a New Journal
To submit your manuscript to a new journal, organize your manuscript according to the correct format of the new journal. Find a new journal that matches the scope and topic of your manuscript. Make sure you rewrite and address your cover letter to the new journal. One thing to consider is the same reviewer(s) who read your manuscript from the previous journal might also be the reviewer in the new journal you’ve selected. Therefore, make the recommended changes before submitting.
Receiving a rejection letter from the journal editor for your manuscript is painful. Remember, however, that most reviewers and editors provide comments to help you improve the quality and readability of your manuscript. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to deal with the rejection. Embrace the critical feedback, use it to improve the quality of your paper, and find a good home for your manuscript. Your perseverance will be the key to turn your rejected manuscript into a successful publication.
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