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I recently submitted a paper on which I worked on for quite a long time to a social sciences journal. It’s a data science paper based on quantitative analysis.

Within a couple days, I received an immediate desk rejection saying that the paper is not developed enough, nothing else.

Has anyone had this before? What can lead to this kind of rejection?

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    What does your advisor think of the paper?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 20:59
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    If I received such a desk rejection, I would ask for clarification: which particular aspects are not developed enough? What is missing? Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 8:08
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    @lighthousekeeper You could ask the editor for clarification, but there should be no expectation to get it. The editor might elaborate as a courtesy to you, but that's not required of them - they have already (more than) fulfilled their end of the exchange. If you don't approach it with the attitude that it's an unnecessary generosity on their part, there's a chance you annoy the editor and sour future interactions.
    – R.M.
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 12:28
  • @R.M. If an editor does not explain their decisions in a comprehensible way, that hints at a lack of either trying or ability, and comes off as an indicator of a poor quality of the journal. In that case, one could even complain to the editor-in-chief and give them the chance to reconcile that impression. If they don't see a need to reconcile things, I wouldn't be that interested in future interaction with that journal. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 14:07
  • @R.M. Wouldn't really call that "more than" - perhaps barely sufficient. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 22:26

4 Answers 4

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I have not been given this exact feedback, but I have received my fair share of desk rejects. I am also a new editor myself, so I have a bit of insight here.

There are usually a few reasons why an editor might reject a paper prior to review.

  1. The paper is not within the scope of the journal.
  2. The paper is not impactful enough for the journal.
  3. The paper may be decent but is lacking in one area or another and the editor just isn't interested i.e., they have better submissions.
  4. The paper is just generally below the quality generally expected at the journal.
  5. The paper is so poorly written or so obviously flawed that it does not need to be sent for expert review to spot the issues

There is nothing to do about 1, other than be more diligent when picking journals to submit to. 2 is also difficult to directly address and is somewhat subjective, usually the solution is to just move on to the next journal. Option 5 is unusual for a decent academic. It takes laziness or a lack of experience/knowledge to churn out a legitimately bad paper. Think of the type of paper that ends up in a predatory journal.

Options 3 and 4 are probably where most desk rejections fall. These are also the two possibilities that really leave room for improvement.

Often you will receive no feedback from the editor. In your case, you have a clue. They told you the paper was "not developed enough" - that probably puts you in those middle categories (3 or 4). I would take that literally.

So what do you do? Well the best thing you can do is try to fix the "problem". A paper being undeveloped could mean a lot of things. It could be that you introduced some interesting ideas but you never expanded on them. Or it could be that you have a strong foundation but never really introduce anything new, even though there was the potential to. It could be that the paper needs editing for structure, clarity, flow, etc. It can be hard to identify these issues yourself, so you should find a fresh set of eyes (preferably more experienced and knowledgeable than yourself) to help you revise the paper.

A final thought, I would not recommend resubmitting anywhere without at least trying to revise the paper and "develop" it more. It could be that the editor was just not interested and made up an excuse but considering that editors generally don't need to give you a reason for rejection, you should treat their feedback as true for now.

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    +1 for ... I would not recommend resubmitting anywhere without at least trying to revise the paper and "develop" it more Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 6:58
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Take it literally. You are missing something, possibly something essential. This editor needs more before they will consider taking it further. It might just be a poor match for the journal, but it probably indicates you have more work to do.

Make sure your paper is in accord with what a journal generally publishes before you submit.

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    Take it literally, and not personally (better to clarify for first-time authors soon to be first-time rejected authors :) ).
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 10:06
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Welcome to Academia and to the world of rejection: a fabric we all wear with pride.

submitted a paper ... to a social sciences journal. It’s a data science paper based on quantitative analysis.
What can lead to this kind of rejection?

Some considerations.

Being a social science journal and your manuscript being quantitative

  • have you checked the scope of the journal
  • check other papers published in the journal
  • addressed what is 'social' in your manuscript
  • is your manuscript simply dump of data sciences metrics or bunch of data analytics

Other than those, which call for you to revise accordingly, @sErISaNo has given an insightful response.

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In addition to other comments, other reasons include:

  • The editor has not read the scope of the journal.
  • The editor wants to reduce his/her workload. Hence, a desk reject is a convenient excuse.

Have a look at other papers in the journal, does it 'look' like your paper belongs in that journal?

EDIT: Do not make the assumptions that editors are 'saints'. Are priests saints? we know the answer to that!

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    The editor of the journal doesn't know the scope of their own journal?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 11:22
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    @CGCampbell You will be surprised how many editors do not know their job. I am an editor of a few journals, and I see many incompetent editors.
    – VitaminE
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 19:57
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    @CGCampbell I have once been rejected for "not in the scope of the journal" (with no further explanation). I then wrote to the editor asking for clarification and cited the scope given on the journal website, into which the paper quite obviously fell. The editor responded: "Yes, but internally we have some more criteria". Aha. Thank you very much. Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 23:21
  • Maybe @VitaminE implies ... >Editor is not in full knowledge of the scope! ... >Author has not read the scope of the journal ... > Editor wants to reduce his/her workload. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 14:42
  • @VitaminE It sounds like you think the answer to your question is no, but actually the answer is that some are and some are not.
    – gib
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 16:26

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