Dealing with rejection by reviewers after submitting a research paper

Dealing with rejection by reviewers after submitting a research paper

You spend months if not years carefully crafting your research into a paper for submission to a peer reviewed journal. You wait on tenterhooks for anywhere between two months to 18 months (my min and max range to date) to hear from what you presume will be experts in your field (not always unfortunately).

You spend months if not years carefully crafting your research into a paper for submission to a peer reviewed journal. You wait on tenterhooks for anywhere between two months to 18 months (my min and max range to date) to hear from what you presume will be experts in your field (not always unfortunately). Some of you fear that your work is not good enough and reviewers will highlight fatal flaws. Others at the back of their minds will think or at least hope that reviewers will recognise just how brilliant they are. The notification comes in and your heart sinks. The editor politely declines the opportunity to publish your work.

Dealing with rejection — what next?

One of the most common questions that I am asked particularly by graduate students is after receiving a rejection with detailed comments what is the next step? The first thing to note is that rejection is incredibly common and so don’t unduly worry. I still recall the first reviewer’s comments I ever received as a PhD student. I was taken aback by the tone by one reviewer in particular. They seemed to miss the point of the paper and were extremely rude and condescending.

At that time I did not realise just how variable comments from reviewers and editors would turn out to be. The review process can be very random and difficult to get consistency across multiple reviewers and such consistency is generally needed if an editor is to allow you to proceed on to the next stage. Indeed in the economics field it is often best to assume your paper will be rejected especially if you are an early career researcher. This does not mean that you should not expect to get your paper published, rather it just may take on average multiple attempts and the number of attempts will depend on how good the paper is, how ambitious you are in terms of journal selection and on how_ lucky you are_. Persistence here is really key.

What if any changes should I make to my paper before resubmitting to another journal?

I have received wonderfully insightful comments from reviewers who have rejected my papers but I also have received very unhelpful ones which seem largely reflective of their own subjective biases and prejudices as opposed to any careful assessment of the merits or otherwise of the specific paper. As a graduate student it can be particularly difficult to figure out which is which. I have noticed some people completely ignore reviewer comments and simply resubmit elsewhere straight away whereas others may spend months looking to address as many comments as humanly possible before resubmitting.

In deciding what to do it might be helpful to divide comments from reviewers into three broad categories and the extent to which this classification applies to any particular paper will of course vary greatly.

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