I submitted a manuscript last year to an IEEE journal, and the paper was accepted for publication. I recently submitted a new manuscript to the same journal, but, this time, the paper was rejected, and I was told that I should submit to another journal since my paper was not within the journal's scope. The two papers both target similar applications. Furthermore, the second paper uses some work in the first paper, making substantial improvements at solving a much more difficult problem. Based on the reviewer's comments (and my own personal assessment), I do not believe that the work presented in the second paper was "incremental" in nature. Far from it. Two of the three reviewers gave positive reviews. The third reviewer, however, mentioned the "outside of journal's scope" issue and the associate editor and editor-in-chief both sided with the 3rd reviewer, and the paper was stopped dead in its tracks.

I'm scratching my head trying to come to terms with how in the world my first paper could be accepted by this journal, but the second paper focused on the same application space and achieving substantial improvements on a much more difficult problem (backed up with measured results) could be rejected. Any ideas?

  • 3
    I'm not familiar with this situation, but is this something you could ask the editor? Not in a confrontational "I think you made a mistake" way, but more along the lines of "Could you explain the rationale to me, so that I can avoid this situation in the future?"
    – Mangara
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 20:49
  • 1
    Could it be that "the scope of the journal" requires a certain amount of novelty?
    – Ri49
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 1:51
  • @EnthusiasticStudent I kept your addition of the "rejection" tag, but I prefer the format of my original title.
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:07
  • @MadJack It's all up to you. Just to mention, you could also roll-back to your original edition.
    – enthu
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:09
  • @Ri49 Yes, indeed. (The above paper was eventually accepted by another top journal in my field.)
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 1:05

3 Answers 3


Four ideas:

  1. It was really out of scope last time, but they either

    • didn't notice and mistakenly accepted it, or
    • didn't have enough in-scope papers to fill the issue, so they accepted yours even though it was slightly out of scope.
  2. They made a mistake and your new paper is actually in-scope. However, you won't win any friends or improve your chances by trying to convince them of this.
  3. The journal has changed scope slightly in the last year, or is trying to change scope slightly now, or different editors have different ideas of what the scope is (as suggested by NateEldredge)
  4. There was some small detail about the first paper that made it in-scope which the second paper lacks, which we couldn't possibly identify for you.
  • 2
    can publication at the journal have gotten more competitive this year? I've seen cases where journals that used to be less restrictive become more selective after they experience sudden increase in submission (especially if they only have limited slots). Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 3:00
  • @socialsciencedoc Certainly, this is what I meant when I said that last time they "didn't have enough in-scope papers to fill the issue."
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 3:02
  • 19
    A variation on 3: Your last paper was handled by a different associate editor, who has different ideas about what the scope of the journal should be. Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 4:06
  • @NateEldredge This could very well be the case. Thanks.
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 4:58
  • @NateEldredge a very likely possibility, I added it to #3 per your suggestion :)
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 6:07

The question and most comments assume that the publication process is more rational than it really is. This happened to me very recently: journals A and B rejected my paper one after the other; in both cases the editor and/or referee said that I should submit it to journal C. So I did, and now journal C tells me (with reports from two referees) that my paper is interesting and technically correct, but not a good fit for their journal.

  • 7
    I see no irrationality here. Journals A and B were simply mistaken in their assessment of how much Journal C would like your paper. That's not a huge suprise: Journal C knows itself much better than A and B know it. Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 17:09
  • 6
    Some irrationality (or randomness) definitely enter the publication process but the situation you describe is not an example.
    – Did
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 17:19

There could be any number of reasons. Ultimately, since your two papers were different, it's perfectly possible that one was within scope and the other wasn't.

Perhaps your first paper was on the borderline of the journal's scope. Even if it wasn't, perhaps the extra analysis you had to do for the second paper was outside the journal's scope. For example, the people at CERN had to develop some serious computer systems to process all the data coming from the Large Hadron Collider. Those systems were completely necessary to solve the harder problems resulting from experiments with the LHC, compared to those done before the LHC was built. However, a detailed description of those computer systems would, I assume, be off-topic in a physics journal.

Also, remember that there are some papers that everybody will agree are within the journal's scope, and there are many papers that everyone will agree are out of scope (e.g., political history in a biology journal). Everything else is subjective: some people will say it's in-scope, some people out. Some people will say it's in scope today but, if you ask them again in a year's time, they'll say it's out.

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