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  • Peii Chen, PhD

Try not to be rejected

How long does it take to have a paper published from the initial submission to the actual publication? Next time when you read a journal article, pay attention to the dates noted on the first page. Usually near the title, by the margin, or the end of the abstract, you will find dates when the manuscript was received and accepted. Being accepted does not mean the paper will be published right away. The journal will hand your manuscript to a publisher's editor, who will transform your manuscript into an article aligned with the journal's style and ask you proof-read it. You will do so and sign a few agreements and disclosure statements and may pay a publication fee. Then your manuscript may be published soon online, and in a year or so, it will be in print. A manuscript of mine was accepted 9 months ago. I have proof-read the editor version. But it has not been published. Getting a paper published takes time.

To shorten the timeframe, I suggest you make sure the first submission is not going to be rejected. I never made an Accept recommendation after the first round of review. Only once or twice in my career as a reviewer did I recommend Minor Revision. Those papers were accepted after one revision. In other words, it is very rare that the first round of review leads to acceptance, and it is often that a manuscript is revised multiple times before it gets accepted and published. The best scenario you're hoping for is-- Major revision, minor revision, acceptance.

A round of review takes four to eight weeks. If a major revision is required, it can takes months for you address all the comments and complete the resubmission. If you receives a minor-revision decision letter, you should be able to turn it around in a month. Getting a paper accepted takes time.

If a manuscript is rejected, you've wasted invaluable time going through a submission process and waiting for a rejection decision. Then you are hunting for the next target journal and reformatting the manuscript for that journal and going through a submission process that is never perfectly user-friendly. Therefore, try your best not to get rejected.

A manuscript is usually rejected because it does not fit a given journal or because the quality of the writing is not good enough. If you are not sure if the journal is interested in the subject matter of your manuscript, ask. Email a working abstract or a short summary of the manuscript to the editor and ask if they may be interested in the topic. If so, the chance of your manuscript being rejected by the journal is a bit lower.

The key is the quality of the writing, i.e., the way the manuscript presents your work. Often times, I found an experiment or an analysis worth being published but the way it was presented was disorganized, unreadable, confusing, disconnected from the literature, or making me wonder why I'd agreed to review. As a reviewer, I love it when reading a manuscript with coherent, evidence-supported arguments. This has nothing to do with the English language but skills of communication. As a manuscript author, you are communicating with readers who may or may not be familiar with your field, and who may gain new knowledge from your writing. Help them learn. Help reviewers learn.

Ask the senior author to review your manuscript thoroughly and provide critical comments if they have not done so. If you are the senior author, you should put the manuscript aside for several days to a week. Read it again with fresh eyes and anticipate reviewers' comments. Do everything you can to avoid being rejected at the first round of review.

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