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Suppose you submit a paper and it is rejected with no suggestion of resubmission, but there is substantial feedback. Do you fix up the paper, based on the feedback and resubmit? Or fix it up and submit to another journal? What heuristic do people use, if any? Or is every case different?

I had a bad experience a few years ago. Short short version follows. Paper rejected after 1 yr. Fixed it up, resubmitted. Major revision decision after 6 months. Fixed up, resubmitted. Rejected again after another 6 months. This literally went on for years, and was quite, quite horrible. The original draft was in pretty bad shape, in hindsight, which partly explains it, and I'm more experienced now. I guess it was one of those character building experiences.

However, I'm wondering if on balance, if the journal doesn't want it, whether it is better to cut your losses and move on?

I hope this is not too subjective a question. Granted, any answers will be purely opinion-based, but that seems to be the case with many questions here.

EDIT: For the record, I'm leaning in the direction of submission to another journal if initially rejected without the suggestion of resubmission. If the journal suggests resubmission, I suppose it is a more ambiguous situation.

  • 1
    Major revision (specially in good journals) means soft rejection. That is somehow good idea but we won't publish it. It is better to polish the paper again and submit it somewhere else. – seteropere Nov 6 '13 at 16:56
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    In my field (Computer Science -> Software Engineering), major revision means good idea, if you fix the paper and/or analysis it might be accepted. There is still a possibility of rejection, but if you substantially address or respond to all of the comments made by reviewers it will likely be accepted (sooner or later). Otherwise, the paper is rejected. Some journals also have the reject but consider resubmission option. – dgraziotin Nov 6 '13 at 17:58
  • I don't agree that major revision means soft rejection. Not in my field (atmospheric science), at least. – gerrit Nov 6 '13 at 21:01
  • @seteropere Also (strongly) disagree on Major revision as soft rejection, and agree with @ dgraziotin and @ gerrit. In ecology (especially in good journals), major revision is usually fairy good news, and the paper is likely to be published if you fix the issues raised in the reviews. Even Rejection with the possibility of resubmission is sometimes used instead of major revision (possibly to shorten the apparent time between initial submission & accept?) – fileunderwater Nov 7 '13 at 13:33
  • I think it would be very much worth talking to the editor or editor-in-chief of the journal, explaining the situation, the previous feedback and the changes you've made/plan to make. If they are less than enthusiastic, then you could quickly save yourself another two years of pain! – badroit Feb 25 '14 at 23:29
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It depends on the reason for rejection.

If a paper is rejected because it's off-topic, it's not really interesting, it's not really new, etc.: then perhaps you were too ambitious. A paper may be perfectly written and the science may be very decent, but still rejected from Nature, because its impact is not really large enough.

However, if a paper is rejected with a motivation like this topic would fit our journal, but some major aspects are missing in the study, and they are so grave that we choose to reject, then you can start over and submit a fixed study. In fact, I have the impression that some journals that have fixed deadlines for revisions, will reject if it is deemed unrealistic to submit the revision in time. Otherwise, there could be a huge difference between the submission date and the publication date, and that isn't beneficial to anybody.

  • What is a fixed study? – Philosopher of science Sep 20 at 21:46
  • @Philosopherofscience A study where problems pointed out by reviewers are fixed. – gerrit Oct 1 at 9:46
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To some extent you answered your own question, every case is different. There is nothing wrong with resubmitting to the same journal, although the paper has been rejected without encouragement to resubmit after revisions. Earlier, such lack of encouragement could be taken as a hint that they do not want to see the paper again, and maybe that will still be the case, but more likely the workload is at such a level that the editors leaves such choices to the author. You are of course free to submit to another journal.

The danger to submit to the same journal is that you may end up with the same editor and the same reviewers. That may not necessarily be all bad but with a new journal you will likely have a fresh look at your paper. You will of course at submission tell the editor that the paper has been reviewed in the earlier journal and was rejected, and also detail what you have done to improve the paper. It would not hurt if you also provide some (good) motivation why you chose the new journal for resubmission. As an editor it is always of interest to know why you made the choice so that one can approach the paper from that perspective.

The trick is to try to figure out if which journal is the appropriate one and there certainly can be strategies in submitting papers. It is not uncommon to try for a prestigious journal with material that has a chance and then resubmit to a more ordinary journal if the first attempt fails. It is always good to have such thoughts in mind when submitting material.

I do not easily give up on papers, some may of course be lost causes for a variety of reasons but any study done and written up properly that presents new non-trivial results should be possible to publish. Easier said than done, however.

  • 2
    Is mentioning an earlier rejection in a new submission required? I'm not aware of this, nor have I ever seen it mentioned in a journal submission process. – Faheem Mitha Nov 6 '13 at 17:21
  • It is not a law and it is probably not written in the brief versions of submission instructions but it is fair to provide such information and in some cases necessary. In, for example, ScholarOne Manuscripts, an electronic submission system for journals such a question is part of the default set-up. – Peter Jansson Nov 6 '13 at 17:29
  • I just reread this answer. This sentence seems to be missing a conclusion. "I do not easily give up on papers, some may of course be lost causes for a variety of reasons but any study done and written up properly that presents new non-trivial results." A clarification would be appreciated. Thanks. – Faheem Mitha Feb 25 '14 at 22:32
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A few other details would make it easier to answer your question. Did the paper receive a desk rejection or was it sent for peer review? What was the reason for rejection mentioned in the decision letter?

In case the paper received a desk rejection, it would not be advisable to submit to the same journal, as the editor has probably not seen much value in your paper.

If your paper has gone through peer review, you can consider submitting an extensively revised version of the paper to the same journal, provided the rejection is not due to a mismatch with the journal's scope.

In your place I would make the changes suggested in the feedback and send the paper to another journal. However, if you are really keen on the same journal, you could send a pre-submission inquiry to the editor mentioning the changes you have made and asking if he would be interested in having another look at the paper.

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