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I am a very objective person and I don't mind constructive criticism.

I have submitted a research paper to an IEEE journal with high reputation. The co-authors of this paper have broad experience in this field with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications. Hence, the paper is of good quality.

I provided the implementation along with full theoretical and experimental analysis of the proposed novel algorithm, so they can replicate the results and make sure that we are genuine.

The reviews were as follows:

  1. Reviewer 1: Very positive feedback, highly appreciated the work, its novelty and quality.
  2. Reviewer 2: Wasn't very clear for them about the contribution of this work with respect to this journal. With some very few minor feedback.
  3. Reviewer 3: Same as Reviewer 2.

The Associate Editor decision was: Two of the reviewers think the contributions of the proposed method are not clear ---> Reject!

This is not the first time I submit a paper and reflect upon the feedback. I already have accepted paper in high reputation IEEE journals.

The decision was as a shock to me!

I've seen worse reviews/feedback, yet the Associate Editor usually goes with a Minor or Major Revision.

I truly believe that we deserve another chance to make the contribution "clearer" as much as they want.

Is this normal? Should I appeal to the decision? Should I go to another journal since I didn't get a real feedback to improve the paper, and most likely the other two reviewers were too lazy or lack of required knowledge to evaluate the paper?

Your advice is very much appreciated.

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    It is normal. The editor may have read your paper him/herself and agree with reviewer 2 and 3. Also, you do not know what comments were given to the editor in private. That's far more important. For example, when I review a paper, my comments to the editor are far more concrete in order to justify my recommendation. – Prof. Santa Claus May 20 at 2:30
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    Unfortunately, that's the case some times. Some editors reject a paper if it does not have a 'wow' factor or addresses a super 'fresh' topic/problem or have glowing reviews. Just submit it to another IEEE journal. – Prof. Santa Claus May 20 at 3:29
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    @Mike I also use private comment when I want to be sure that the editor gets the message but I do not want to appear nasty to the author. The crucial point is that the two formulations, the private and the one open to authors, at the end convey the same information. Still, I do not think it is your case and the only explanation is that the editor read the paper himself, as suggested above. Or a wow oriented editorial line, also mentioned above. – Alchimista May 20 at 8:44
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    Something to help you understand that this decision is normal: In highly selective venues the default is reject. From the editor's perspective, the reviews need to clearly lift your paper out of the reject pile into the accept pile. If they don't, your paper it will remain in the reject pile. – user2705196 May 20 at 11:46
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    "The co-authors of this paper have broad experience in this field with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications. Hence, the paper is of good quality." The conclusion does not follow from the premise. – Stephan Kolassa May 20 at 12:14
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Based on your description I suspect an appeal will not work. That's because you are not disputing the reasons that went into their decision, you are only disputing the decision. But they have already made the decision. Saying "your reviewers were right, but your decision was wrong" is not likely to change their minds.

To have a real chance at changing their minds, you need to argue that their reasons for rejection were wrong, e.g.:

  • Reviewer said X, but X is provably incorrect, because [reasons].
  • Reviewer said this topic isn't worth spending time on, but your journal published [these papers] on that very topic.
  • Reviewer said your manuscript doesn't explain Y, but it does, and here is the paragraph.

That's not to say you can't appeal - you can if you want to - it's just that it probably won't work.

I think, based on your description, the best course of action is to rewrite the paper such that it's clearer, then submit to another journal. See also this question about the same situation where the reviewers didn't understand the paper. You can also ask the two co-authors, they should be experienced enough to offer suggestions on what to do next.

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    Totally agree. Not a case for appeal. – Alchimista May 20 at 8:46
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Wasn't very clear for them about the contribution of this work with respect to this journal

2 reviewers out of 3 had this feeling. The editor, considering these reviews and possibly some private communications, decided that in spite of the title and the abstract you provided at the submission stage, the paper in itself does not align with the goals/topics/focus of the journal and it would be not of interest to the readers.

It seems to me that you can submit the paper, including the minor reviews, to a different journal and be confident it will be accepted.

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Was it a reject or reject-resubmit? There is a big difference.

I have been an AE for two IEEE journals. One journal follows the standard accept, reject, major revisions, and minor revisions publishing paradigm. Poor-quality papers are often desk rejected, with the option to resubmit if the idea is good. "Me too" papers that propose minor enhancements are frequently desk rejected. Those papers that make it to the review stage are typically not rejected unless there are major issues with the paper or suspicions of plagiarism.

The other journal follows a different approach. It uses the reject, reject-resubmit, minor revisions, and accept paradigm. Any paper that is good, but basically not in a camera-ready format, will be given a reject-resubmit designation. It doesn't matter if all of the reviewers are in agreement about accepting the publication; it happens if there are any changes that the reviewers want made. Reject-resubmits are frequently issued to stop the review clock and hence game internal publication metrics.

I'm not a fan of the latter approach.

If your paper was actually rejected, then address the issues that the reviewers raised. Prominently highlight those changes in the paper and your comments to the reviewers. Then have your co-authors help draft a letter to the EIC if they think it's worth appealing. If not, then just take the responses in stride and submit the revised paper elsewhere.

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  • Do you ever overrule reviewers? or do you wait until all reviewers say yes? – Prof. Santa Claus May 21 at 5:41

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