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This is cross-disciplinary conceptual research on existing engineering solutions that could be employed for the new industry, 10-15 years from now. These ideas about future tasks are discussed in popular science but lack fundamental academic research yet. This is the third journal that accepted our article for peer-review.

Reviewer 1 (report):

  • Checked all the 'Yes' (accept) boxes,
  • Copied the sentence from article's Abstract.
  • Added "The paper is intersting [spelling error] and prospective, "
  • And copied half a line from the end of article's Introduction.

Reviewer 2 (report):

  • Checked all 'Must be improved' boxes.

[I copied most of the Reviewer 2 report as is]

" This manuscript is not a scientific work. It is an accumulation of information without any actual scientific contribution. ... . The authors do not even cite the actual scientific papers. "


The email title: "Declined for Publication ... Encourage Resubmission ..."

There was nothing in the email from the editor, just a template sentence.


Review reports from our previous journal submission did say that this is a well written article that puts forward important ideas. But they criticized the overall article's structure and some of the used references.

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  • In Elsevier journal we waited 6 months with no action from the editor, and finally withdrew the manuscript. In the Taylor & Francis Group journal we waited 3.5 months to receive pretty shallow review reports. Never the less, they were helpful in improving this article. At MDPI we waited 1 month, but now don't have many ideas for improvement. Mar 11, 2023 at 16:05
  • I think the first review is useless and should not have been sent to you. Probably the editor ignored it. The second review is a full reject. If the editor agrees then it would likely be rejected in my field. This reviewer is basically saying you have an essay or a review article, not an empirical paper. In some journals that would be okay; in others it should be an automatic reject and no comments would be given.
    – Dawn
    Mar 14, 2023 at 2:21
  • @Dawn - Thank you. I've been dealing with multiple journals and still cannot rectify the paradox of how low grade and unintelligent all my communications with editorial offices were. I was expecting 'the best', but only saw 'the worst'. Mar 15, 2023 at 14:02

4 Answers 4

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In answer to your question "What leverage does an author have ... ?" , I would say, "Fortunately, none!".

That probably sounds harsh but if it were the case that you had "leverage" then so to would everybody else, suggesting that it would be leverage, rather than merit, that resulted in papers being published.

It is the job of an editor to cull through hundreds and hundreds of submissions and to select from among those submitted, the few that best fit the goals of the journal. It is the job of a reviewer (and I used the words "job" very very loosely since most reviewers are unpaid) to assist the editorial team to do their job. Because the number of papers submitted to a journal usually far exceeds the number that can be published (or even read completely), the first task of a reviewer is actually the exact opposite of what you might think. It is to read enough of each paper to be able to decide whether it is unpublishable. Since the vast majority of papers reveal themselves to be unpublishable fairly quickly, a reviewer can devote more time to the few papers that are (double negative here) not unpublishable.

It is your job and yours alone to ensure that the alarm bell for unpublishable is never sounded in the mind of a reviewer. Again, my comments might sound harsh but a brief digression will illustrate my points so far.

A colleague of mine is a major review-handler for a funding agency. Because a funding agency gives money away for nothing, the number of submissions is high and funding-reviewers face a worse nightmare, with even tighter deadlines, than journal reviewers. My colleague conducted a double-blind experiment over a few years. To one group of reviewers, she sent only the first 150 word abstract of each funding application and asked for an "accept/reject" decision. To the second group of reviewers, she sent the entire grant applications, again with requests for "accept/reject" decisions. There were no funding applications that got a rejection based on the 150 word abstract yet received a positive rating on the full application. In other words, out of a 5000 word application, most could be rejected on the basis of the first 150 words.

I know from harsh experience how annoying, frustrating, and downright discouraging it can be to receive so few comments, or such contradictory comments from reviewers, that you cannot see how to overcome the apparent impediments to publication. But while I understand how nice, helpful, useful and encouraging it would be to receive detailed information on improving your publication, you have to understand that no one owes you. The system is not broken. It is not an obligation of the reviewers or of the editors to try to understand or improve your paper, nor even to help you to improve it. It is your responsibility to make it so clear why your paper is worth publishing that an editor will be doing everything they can to get your paper into print.

Extended response to your comment

I hesitated over responding to your comment because I don't wish to offend you. I do understand how extremely frustrated you are with feedback that has not so far enabled you to get your paper published. However, there are things in your original post and your question that shed light on at least some problems.

First, and as a somewhat minor issue, I assume that you are writing for an English language journal and that you are not a native English speaker.

Second, and far more important than the native-quality of your English, is that your ideas are not, in my view, expressed clearly. Consider, for example, two sentences (one in your original post, one in your comment) that relate to the same issue.

  • Original post sentence: Review reports from our previous journal submission did say that this is a well written article that puts forward important ideas. But they criticized the overall article's structure and some of the used references.
  • Comment sentence: This paper was accepted by 3 journals. Two of them were pretty high ranking.

When I read your comment I initially thought that I must have completely misread your original posting. I thought "Wow, this person has already had their paper accepted by three journals and they're still unhappy!" But I had not misread your post. Instead, you have not consistently expressed yourself clearly. That might be connected with your successive rejections! If I have pieced together the information correctly, what you really mean is something like the following:

We have now submitted our paper to three journals, two of which are fairly high ranking, and we have had the paper rejected by all three journals. In each case, the paper has gotten through the editor's "desk check", without being rejected, and has then been sent out for peer review. After having been peer reviewed (now three times!) we have received rejections from the journal editors, accompanied by mixed reviews.

From this, you have some useful information. The opening of your paper expresses itself sufficiently clearly to make three editors think that it will not be a complete waste of time to ask other people to read the remainder of your paper carefully. What then has gone wrong? From what you have written, I don't know! Instead, I have made some guesses, and made suggestions. The guesses are not in any particular order.

  1. As I argued above, the evidence is that you do not consistently express yourself clearly. Solution: have an experienced author (not necessarily an engineer) read your paper and give you feedback about your writing.
  2. Your paper might simply be a poor fit for a particular journal, in which case, continue your search. I think, from some of your remarks, however, that this is not the problem.
  3. You oversold your ideas in the first 150 words of the paper and it appeared to be more interesting initially than it later turned out. The editor was impressed by the initial sell, but the reviewers saw "hot-air" rather than real substance.
  4. You can express yourself very clearly in your native language and might also be a very good speaker of English but you are not so good at expressing complicated ideas in English. Solution: if necessary, pay a native English editor to help you improve your paper.

There are numerous other possibilities. I suggest that you also read this question (which reflects struggles that are similar to your own) ... and this answer.

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    "CrimsonDark" - Do you think that if the editor's first look at the manuscript after submission would create a similar impression: "this is not a science", they would go for the next step to do peer-review? This paper was accepted by 3 journals. Two of them were pretty high ranking. Mar 12, 2023 at 16:04
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    I think the OP is using the word “accepted” to mean “sent for review”
    – Dawn
    Mar 12, 2023 at 23:13
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    I think this is the crux of the issue. Reviewers are looking for a hypothesis, a methods section, and findings re the hypothesis from those methods. Without those, they can’t even give you useful comments because it is an essay, not a reviewable research article.
    – Dawn
    Mar 15, 2023 at 14:47
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    I often have to give a lecture to my grad students about the differences between what undergraduate faculty called a “research paper” and what is peer-reviewable empirical research. Unless you are doing hard-core theoretical modeling (which is its own kind of method) there is no such thing as “conceptual research.”
    – Dawn
    Mar 15, 2023 at 14:52
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    Why is there no such thing as "conceptual research"? It comes down to the scientific method - hypothesize, gather and test evidence, reject/don't reject the hypothesis. It sounds like your paper/essay stops at hypothesize. Sometimes a review article is used to point to the state of the literature and its gaps/natural next steps for research, which may be what you are trying to do, I am not sure.
    – Dawn
    Mar 15, 2023 at 16:32
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Having your paper rejected is no fun. It’s especially bad when you feel like the reviewers didn’t even read the paper.

You have very little leverage. Instead of thinking about how to change this editor’s mind, reformat for the next journal.

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    While I agree in theory that could be damaging to a company’s reputation, I think a single instance would probably come across to most as petty. You’d also risk damaging your own reputation in the process.
    – Ian
    Mar 11, 2023 at 15:21
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The editor in charge clearly choose to consider the short referee report. You can always escalate to the editor-in-chief, but unless there is a technical error or you can rebut in details the majority of the points of the referee it’s unlikely the EiC will overrule the handling editor. After all, by construction editors make a judgement to accept or reject a manuscript, so you better have solid reasons to challenge that judgement.

If you feel poorly treated by the journal, the only real leverage you have to not to resubmit to this journal just like if you don’t like a restaurant the leverage you have is to go elsewhere.

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    "ZeroTheHero" - I thought that a 5 words (original from the peer-reviewer) review report for the 27-page review article covering different disciplines of science and engineering - would be an outrage for people involved with manuscript publishing. But, apparently, no one in this community considers it unusual or bad. My co-author published dozens of articles and several books. And he is as surprised as I am. Mar 12, 2023 at 13:42
  • Not to be picky but what you pasted is more than 5 words and fairly specific. If you want to vent, do it on the back of the handling editor, who may have made a decision based on a bad referee report. Do not however expect decisions to reject to be paragraphs long as the decision comes with supporting documents. Mar 12, 2023 at 14:00
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    "ZeroTheHero" - I was talking about "Reviewer 1 (report)". It is an unusual paper that analyses technologies that can be used for something that does not exist yet. This area was not properly researched yet because there was no funding for such research. But we worked on this article for more than a year and I need to find a way to publish it. Mar 12, 2023 at 14:34
  • so what’s you’re saying is the report in favour is not useful, and the report against is detailed and specific. Sorry I’m not sure what you want to do here, except never re-submit to this journal. Mar 12, 2023 at 14:37
  • This is the crux of the issue- I would ignore the first referee report as an editor (and would not have sent it on to the author). I would find the second report damming enough that I would take a look myself and reject if I agreed. Think of it as a belated desk reject.
    – Dawn
    Mar 14, 2023 at 2:16
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You have no leverage other than to make the work better fit the journal. You seem to describe a bunch of "blue sky" ideas that might work out in the future if explored. There is value in that, but those ideas are only the beginnings of research, proposals or research questions, not results. This journal wants more.

The editor has rejected the paper, implying that they agree with this review. It isn't a statement, necessarily, about the quality of your ideas, but a statement of the focus of the journal and what sorts of things they choose to publish. I interpret it as they want evidence of the value of these things, not just proposals.

Other journals may have a different focus and different requirements, but if you want this particular journal to publish then you have a lot of work to do I think. Happily, though, they didn't say "go away and don't come back".

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    "Buffy" - What you say is common wisdom. I cannot disagree with that. But when the process is broken, when they tell you to resubmit but don't bother to say what needs to be changed, there is a need to think outside of the box. Mar 11, 2023 at 15:48
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    But they are telling you that you don't have the detail you need. Providing that is your job, not theirs. They aren't in a position to say more without doing your research. They are saying that the gap is large, too large for them to fill.
    – Buffy
    Mar 11, 2023 at 16:06
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance Actually it sounds like the process worked as intended: an article that didn't fit the journal was rejected, and they explained why. It's not necessarily up to them to give you a framework to fix if you're that far off.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 11, 2023 at 18:36
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance I'm not really a fan of MDPI but I'm impressed that even they found your paper poor enough to reject, as my impression from reading papers in MDPI, especially those that evoke questions on scientific SE sites, is that they will publish anything that appears from a distance to possibly be a manuscript. Peer reviews are primarily for recommending to the editor. If you need advice to improve your paper, send it to some scientists you know and ask for their feedback. It seems likely that their first feedback will be the same as this review: cite some existing work.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 11, 2023 at 23:31
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance Not sure I follow how that applies here, but if it's helpful to you then that's good.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 12, 2023 at 2:26

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