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I am a Ph.D. student and recently I solved an important problem in my domain. Unfortunately, the paper got rejected stating that the results are interesting but incremental.

I discussed this issue with my peers. They said that they have gone through the similar rejection scenarios.

This thing is worrying me a lot. I picked that particular problem statement thinking that solving it would be a great contribution. And, my supervisor thought the same. However, we were able to solve the problem based on existing techniques and there are about 1-2 novel ideas in our work. It means our solution is simple and elegant.

If somebody would have solved the same problem with a rather complicated set of techniques while overlooking the simpler ones; that paper probably would have got accepted. My question is why the paper is judged based on it being incremental while it still being non-trivial? Why a work is not given more importance based on the value of the result instead of the method of obtaining it? Furthermore, I believe that simpler results should be preferred by the community instead of the complicated ones. And, they should completely omit the term "incremental" in their reviews. It is quite frustrating. Even the Google Scholar's tagline is "Stand on the shoulders of giants" :/

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    General advice. When your paper is rejected, try another journal. Perhaps a less prestigious journal. (The other half of the advice: If your papers are always accepted the first place you sent them, then you are aiming too low.) – GEdgar May 14 at 20:59
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    Hi, welcome to the site. I empathize with your situation, but this seems more like a rant than a question. Is this the question you want answered: 'why the paper is judged based on it being incremental while it still being non-trivial?' – AppliedAcademic May 14 at 21:21
  • @AppliedAcademic I am giving my opinion. Apologies, if it looks like a rant. Yes, this is the question and the following one too. Thank you. – IY2 May 14 at 21:26
  • I agree wholeheartedly that this is a problem. But I don't see a good question in your post. – user2705196 May 14 at 21:32
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My interpretation is that the reviewer(s) consider that solving the specific problem is not a particularly significant outcome. Assuming that they are right in this judgement (they may not be), the paper must distinguish itself in other ways. Maybe the problem/solution is shown to have parallels with some other problem/solution. Maybe the solution is radically different. Or maybe, as in your stated case, the solution is simpler than expected. You must identify which of these is most correct and focus on presenting that as the centerpiece of your work. If the simplicity/elegance is what stands out most, find a way to validate and quantify the simplicity, and use that as the central theme.

If, on the other hand, you are convinced that the solving the problem is an important outcome by itself, then stick with the paper and submit it elsewhere. It is very common that reviewer assessments of relevance/novelty vary widely.

Onto the larger point of incremental improvement being generally given less respect; this is the reality with most products, research output being one. The current model of scholarly publication favours work that will get more attention and generate more downloads/citations. This certainly has demerits, but it is the norm and it's best to live with it. This doesn't necessarily mean you should not pursue this line of enquiry, but you should assess what and why it can be more appealing to the readership. (A demonstrably simple, reproducible solution to a problem of my interest would definitely appeal to me).

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    "If the simplicity/elegance is what stands out most, find a way to validate and quantify the simplicity, and use that as the central theme." I will do this when sending my paper the next time. 👍 thanks! – IY2 May 14 at 22:31
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The fact that the results are "interesting but incremental" means you have done something of value, so your paper is probably publishable somewhere. You have two options you should consider: (1) try to expand the work to make it more than incremental before trying to publish; or (2) accept the existing incremental result and try publishing in another journal. Either of those approaches are reasonable, depending on whether or not you think you can expand your work.

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