These may seem like minor mistakes, but thousands of papers are submitted to journals every day, and journal editors have no shortage of manuscripts to choose from.
Although there are many reasons that may explain why your paper was rejected, when it comes to academic writing, some errors are made more frequently than others.
But, even if you do everything correctly, getting published is difficult, time consuming, and the competition is fierce. From incorrect grammar to an unclear abstract, there are several reasons why editors of academic journals may not accept a research article. Here are the most common reasons why research papers get rejected and the best ways to prevent these mistakes.
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Errors in method or analysis
A research paper can be rejected if editors notice problems in the way the research or study was carried out. For example, the researcher’s sample size may be too small to prove that the study’s findings can be applied to the general population. The error could also be in the analysis and discussion of the research. If the editor finds that the author is jumping to conclusions without adequate evidence, the paper may be rejected. The numbers and statistics presented must be verifiable and sufficiently proved by the author. A vague analysis could also pose a problem: a discussion that is too in-depth and off-topic may not be acceptable. Be specific, clear, and focused on the data.
Failure to follow manuscript guidelines
The first thing an author should do before submitting an article is review the journal’s guidelines. The paper may be rejected if it does not adhere to the journal’s technical requirements, including elements like spacing, font, text color, and use of abbreviations. Academic journals may also have different length requirements for each part of the paper, and the editor may reject the paper if certain sections are too long or too short. Different forms of abstract or summary may also be required. Some academic journals may require a background or objective statement which cannot be left out by the author.
Using the wrong medium to submit the paper could also result in rejection; some academic journals may prefer online submissions. Even if the error is not in the body of the paper, an editor could decide to reject it. For instance, essential information that is required for the title page may be accidentally left out. When an editor receives a paper that does not properly follow the journal’s guidelines, it is evident that the author did not carry out sufficient background research about the journal prior to their submission.
If an editor notices spelling errors in a research paper, it could be rejected immediately no matter how solid the findings are. All research papers should be thoroughly proofread before they are submitted. Spelling mistakes and punctuation errors are not only unprofessional, but they make it more difficult to understand the ideas being presented. Using the passive voice can make sentences less clear and harder to follow when referring to specific participants or findings. Using the wrong version of a word which sounds like the correct version is another reason for rejection. Writing “accept” in place of “except” or vice versa is a common mistake many non-native English speakers make.
Run-on sentences, confusing word choice, and the incorrect use of commas and semicolons are other grammatical errors to look out for. Grammatical errors could occur if the author is not a native English speaker or because of undeveloped writing skills. No matter the reason, researchers should either have peers edit their paper or hire a professional editing company to correct mistakes they may have missed themselves.
Having your manuscript professionally edited is a great way to guarantee you don't receive a rejection for a mistake that could have been easily avoided.
Errors in figures and/or tables
The visual components of the paper should properly demonstrate the researcher’s findings and are just as important as good grammar. Problems in the way that the information is portrayed in figures or tables, such as a lack of clarity or an incorrect style that doesn’t fit the guidelines of the journal, can result in rejection. Authors should refrain from using an extremely high or low number of figures and tables in their paper and instead balance them with written components. Graphics can be an effective way to explain the study more effectively and shorten a manuscript that is slightly too long, but they should be used in moderation.
There are several mistakes researchers can make in the citations of their paper that result in rejection by academic journals. Citing sources that are outdated or have been proven false diminishes the reputability of the paper. To avoid this problem, researchers should always validate the findings in the works they cite before they submit their own paper. Including a high amount of references to work that has been published by the author in the past, or self-citation, may lead editors to believe the author’s paper is biased. Using the wrong citation style, such as submitting a paper written in MLA style when the journal only accepts APA, could result in rejection as well. Using the style that the journal requires but accidentally using it incorrectly is also a problem that editors are on the lookout for.
Proper ethics need to be carried out during the study and demonstrated in detail throughout the research paper. There are several mistakes researchers can make when it comes to ensuring good ethics that could result in rejection. Failing to acquire informed consent from research participants or unintentionally engaging in wrongful practices like plagiarism could reap serious consequences. However, other ethical rules may not be so obvious as they can be changed, removed or added over time. Researchers should make sure their ethics are in alignment with the most current rules to avoid mistakes. Controversial or potentially offensive discussion about the findings should be avoided as well.
Inadequate abstract or conclusion
An abstract that does not clearly and concisely lay out the contents of the paper may cause an editor to reject it. A conclusion that does not provide the reader with new, proven, and interesting information based on the findings of the research will not be sufficient for publication in an academic journal. It is common for researchers to provide an unreasonable conclusion about their findings because they present it in a biased way that they believe proves their thesis to be true rather than presenting it from an objective standpoint. On the other hand, a paper could be rejected because the conclusion is too general and contains only an obvious observation of the research rather than an interesting explanation and analysis. An adequate discussion should situate the material in the context of the academic field. It can include dialogue about how the paper’s findings compare to the findings of other studies and explanations as to how it supports or disproves certain theories.
The number of journal submissions is too high
Sometimes, research papers are not rejected for solely editorial reasons. On occasion, you may do everything right, and still receive a rejection. Editors of journals that receive an extremely large amount of submissions and are sometimes pickier while reviewing new submissions. In other cases, even if there are technically no errors in the paper, it may be rejected because several other papers on the same topic have been published in the journal before, or the editors are limited to the number of new articles they can add because of space constraints. The problem may not be that the research paper contains any specific errors, but that the editor has chosen to publish papers they believe are superior in some way. If two papers are equal in quality but there is only space for one, it may simply be a matter of luck. In this case, the same paper that was rejected by a renowned academic journal may be accepted by a less popular one which has a more specific focus.
The topic isn't relevant or original enough
Covering a general topic that is not current or has already been published multiple times before is a common reason for rejection. In addition, recycling outdated theories or attempting to provide evidence for a hypothesis that has already been proven in the past will make for an unoriginal research paper. Valid findings may be rejected simply because similar information has already been published. The paper may have a loose connection to results that have been published in other studies, but should not regurgitate them. Besides a lack of novelty, a paper may be rejected because the information is not presented in an intriguing way because of poor word choices. Another common mistake is forming a hypothesis that, in the editor’s opinion, is too obvious and does not necessarily require a study to prove it is correct. A good way to avoid this type of rejection is to ensure that the paper contributes something surprising or new to the academic field and to question whether the journal’s readers would be interested in it.
The paper doesn't match the journal's content
The subject of the research paper may not match up with the topics that the journal usually focuses on. This can result in the editor rejecting the paper without reviewing it completely. Rejection on these grounds can usually be avoided if the author takes time to read several articles from the journal and consider the topics of papers the journal usually publishes, as well as consistencies in the tone and format of the journal’s articles. They should consider whether the paper fits within the scope of the journal as a whole.
Some of these errors are subjective, and it is ultimately the journal editor's decision whether an article is suitable for publication.
These may seem like minor mistakes, but thousands of papers are submitted to journals every day and journal editors have no shortage of manuscripts to choose from.
Often times rejected papers may be accepted after thorough editing. An improvement in the authors’ writing skills, or submission to a different academic journal altogether can result in acceptance. By avoiding these common mistakes, researchers can be more confident that their paper meets the standards for acceptance.