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A colleague of mine working outside of Europe has encountered an absolute bizarre and, IMO, utterly unacceptable situation for the first time in their decades-long career as a chemical engineering researcher. I am myself stumped and do not know how to proceed and require some sound, honest advice.

A manuscript was submitted to a journal and was suddenly rejected following a tedious 18-month review process (this is not a Tier 1 journal either - a rather standard 'bread-and-butter' publication in our field). One might think the manuscript must have passed through several rounds of review in that time, but there was in fact only one round of (non-major) revisions. The timeline is:

  1. Initial submission in 2021.
  2. Two requests for reviewer suggestions from the handling editor.
  3. Initial round of reviews in 2022 (this is 13 months after submission at this point).
  4. Revisions submitted a month later. None of them were major.
  5. A re-upload of a single Figure at a higher resolution requested after another month.
  6. Following an inquiry about the status of our submission in another 4 months, we have received an entirely unexpected decision of “Rejection” this month.

There was zero explanation provided for a sudden editorial rejection 18 months after submission. As you can imagine, the science had also moved on in that time, and my colleague could well have submitted to another journal. Following an inquiry to the handling editor and the Editor-in-Chief for an elaboration (or, indeed, any clarification at all), we received the following (heavily paraphrased):

The manuscript is unfit to be published in Journal Name. The language requires re-writing and the assistance of a language editor. Many technical expressions are either grammatically erroneous or completely non-sensical. The interpretation spectra is absolutely unclear. The conclusions leaves much to be desired.

This was the only explanation provided. The question is practically begging to be asked: Why was none of this brought to the author's attention at any point during the 18-month process? Shouldn't language with such 'unacceptable quality of technical expression' be immediately rejected before even contending for peer review? I was absolutely baffled when I heard about this, and advised my colleague to file any complaint possible to prevent other authors from experiencing this in the future.

This journal belongs to the first publisher that probably comes to the mind of anyone in the chemical sciences. Who can we contact beyond the Editor-in-Chief to file an official complaint?

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    "Why was none of this brought to the author's attention at any point during the 18-month process? " Why none of the authors decided to pull the plug after 8-10 months?
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 16 at 13:35
  • I have no idea and am not among the authors, but if I was to speculate it would be due to the invested time (and effort in finding reviewers). One generally waits for at least the first round of reviews, although 13 months is an astonishing amount of time. Regardless, it is what it is. I don't really know how to answer your question, but am still after useful advice on the matter. The journal mishandled this submission massively.
    – Spykeeboy
    Sep 16 at 19:08
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    The question on my mind is whether the language actually was unacceptable? Just because the reviewers were too lazy to point it out doesn't make the language acceptable. Sep 16 at 23:01
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    @WolfgangBangerth Parts of the language distort and reduce the clarity of the manuscript. I would not call it unacceptable - it does require revision, but the issue here is the handling of this by the editors. If the language is unacceptable, it is their job to reject the manuscript on this basis, but at the very least (after 18 months!) they could invite the authors to re-submit and provide the briefest of apologies for sudden rejection after such a long time. Of course the authors will likely be submitting to another journal, but this mishandling MUST be reported. My question is, to who?
    – Spykeeboy
    Sep 17 at 5:56
  • Were the reviewers perhaps not native speakers and not able to evaluate the felicity of the manuscript either? A resolution check could have been performed by someone who didn't read the manuscript. Sep 20 at 19:29

3 Answers 3

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I am sorry this happened to you. The "explanation" provided by the journal is phrased in such a generic way that can potentially apply to any paper. Given that your paper was under review for 18 months and no major issues were raised by the reviewers, such terse and tense response is unjustified and can be considered borderline unprofessional. It feels like a power trip from the journal team, and you are right to feel hurt by it.

I do not think there are effective ways to control such a behaviour, except naming and shaming the journal and the editor.

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While there is no guarantee of a speedy trial in academia, your points are valid. You’ve been dragged along Only to be rejected. Regardless of if you truly need help with your writing/ language, etc, you are entitled to meaningful and timely feedback.

Contact the general editor and submit a polite grievance. You may get a new bunch of reviewers under expedited status.

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Copying the general idea from a previous answer of mine:

Check with the journal to see if the decision actually is the one for the paper in question. Especially do this if it looks like the decision comments aren't relevant for the paper. What happened to this paper isn't as dramatic as what happened to the paper in the linked question, but it still seems very unlikely that a rational journal would act like this, so my gut feeling is that something went wrong, most likely human error. They could easily have confused your colleague's paper with someone else's.

If they didn't confuse the papers, then it seems to me that there were some confidential comments involved, in which case it's probably a good idea not to worry about given the missing information.

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