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So, I recently finished my first ever paper and submitted it to a journal. A few days later, I got a response from the Editor saying that my manuscript had been rejected because it did not fit the scope of the journal.

The thing is, before submission, I was asked to suggest two reviewers. One of them, recently published a paper with the same theme in this same journal (I even used him as one of my main references). Beside the work of this reviewer, there are plenty of other papers with this theme being published in this journal over the years.

The paper is related to an application of AI in the Electrical Engineering field.

I understand that if my methodology or something else was wrong, I would get a rejection. But my work did not even get reviwed by others and this "your work did not fit the scope of the journal" is a bit weird to me.

What could have possible went wrong here? So I can understand better this process and see how I can try to improve my paper to submit it elsewhere.

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    Did you discuss this with your supervisor? Feb 27 at 10:50
  • @FerventHippo Sure, he's my co-author.
    – Murilo
    Feb 27 at 13:16
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    And what did he say? Feb 27 at 13:55
  • @FerventHippo That the reason for rejection was indeed weird (for the same reason I already stated here), but we should submit to another journal, and maybe change something in the abstract to be more clear (other colleagues don't think this is necessary at all, it is already clear enough).
    – Murilo
    Feb 28 at 11:18
  • Maybe the editors have been in trouble to find reviewers for previous papers of the same topuc?
    – m123
    Mar 22 at 21:35

6 Answers 6

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Sometimes "out of scope" doesn't mean that the topic/theme of the paper is outside the scope of the journal, rather it may be that the impact is out of scope.

This is just standard terminology for a desk reject and I wouldn't spend much time thinking about the precise meaning and dissecting the language of the rejection. It's just time to submit this particular work to another journal. I don't think it's worth appealing a decision like this, it's just more polite for them to say "out of scope" than "the editor doesn't think your paper seems important enough".

I dug through my email for a rejection letter (these are not too hard to find there), and here's an example of some wording from one to support my answer:

I am sorry to report that we are unable to publish your paper... the study provides some new observations ... (but) ... the findings do not provide a sufficient advance. ...

While your manuscript does not fit within the scope of papers currently reviewed at (this journal), we believe that your manuscript was technically and methodologically strong, and therefore could be appropriate for (lower tier journal by same publisher with the same topic scope)

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  • You might also have a colleague proofread it just to be sure that that won’t be an issue. Feb 26 at 0:16
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    As an editor, my own practice is the opposite of this answer. I will only tell you your paper is out of scope if it truly doesn't fit under the topics covered by the journal. If it is simply too low-impact, the rejection letter will say that. For reference, I am an editor for a SIAM journal and an ACM journal. Feb 26 at 10:02
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    @DavidKetcheson you may be an exceptionally scrupulous editor. Thank you for your service.
    – Randall
    Feb 26 at 15:30
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    Better than submitting the same work to another journal is - since this is your first paper - asking an experienced colleague if they think the paper is ready for submission or if it needs further work. Feb 27 at 10:49
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    @DanRomik I do think yours is the correct meaning of "scope", but in my experience editors do not stick to this strict definition of topic so OP and other people submitting papers should be aware of this. I've added a sample to my answer where the editor explicitly refers to not a "sufficient advance" while referring to not fitting within scope of papers that are sent for review. Of course it may certainly be the case that editors in math are more careful with this terminology.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 28 at 19:16
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Perhaps a different editor made a different judgement about your paper than an earlier editor made about the earlier one. Perhaps it was some feature of your paper.

You can appeal to them, pointing out what you see as a discrepancy, and you might be successful in getting a review. Or not.

Or, you can look for a more obviously appropriate journal. Some desk rejections will be treated as final, but you can still ask.

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  • Well, there is no harm in aksing, i guess. Thanks!
    – Murilo
    Feb 25 at 14:58
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    There is harm, as it delays you handing in your paper in another (lower ranked?) journal.
    – usr1234567
    Feb 26 at 16:57
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It's the editor's job to make sure papers a published appropriate. Similar to grants, papers can be returned without review if the editor doesn't think the contribution in the journal matches to the journals scope. The key thing is "the manuscript's contribution" to the field, not the topic or theme of the manuscript. What is unique and innovative needs to be clear, and whatever that is has to fit the journal's scope. New authors sometimes have difficulty articulating exactly what is new on their paper. If that is not clear, an editor might quickly reject it as not being in the scope of the journal.

I'd suggest taking an honest assessment of whether the specific intellectual contribution of the paper fits the journal scope, rewrite it to clarify, and try to find a more appropriate journal to submit to (or resubmit to the same one if it was an issue of clarity).

One thing you can do in the future is to make sure it's clear in the cover letter why it is a good fit for that specific journal.

On field specific note, are you doing IA (industrial automation) or AI in electrical engineering? If you are doing AI, those journals are flooded with papers on AI applications to EE that make zero contributions to the field of EE. If the innovation was solely applying an existing AI method to an EE problem without clearly identifying the intellectual contribution to the field of electrical engineering, it will be out of the scope of nearly any EE journal. Same goes with IA. If the innovation was in some technical implementation of existing methods, it would be out of the scope of most EE journals.

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  • Sorry, my mistake. It is AI in EE. My methodology is different from other papers, wich showed some improved results from these earlier works. Like you said, maybe they are being flooded with these type of work and (at the moment) not acceppeting anymore?
    – Murilo
    Feb 25 at 14:58
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    @Murilo You can't know and you won't know. It's not worth your time trying to read the tea leaves. Move on, submit elsewhere. Feb 25 at 18:13
  • "make sure it's clear in the cover letter why it is a good fit for that specific journal.". Is it ok to write in the cover letter that "since some of my references published in your journal, it seems that its topic can be of your interest"?
    – m123
    Mar 22 at 21:33
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    @m123 I think it can, but not the first thing you say and I wouldn't word it like that. Something like "This manuscript makes an important contribution to [x], which is of particular emphasis to this journal. This work contributes to the body of knowledge that includes refs 7, 12, that were published in [publication].". That said, I just give an argument as to why my paper is a fit on its own, without mentioning citations.
    – sh314
    Mar 26 at 3:33
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I wrote a paper, supervisor suggested one journal. The editor rejected based on "we don't publish empirical research" I wrote back asking if she had suggestions where I might publish. I got a suggestion and the published.

You can always ask for editor suggestions as to where you might publish or any suggestions for paper improvements.

Many editors assume that you have a good research lab, supervisor advice and know what is expected. However this is not always so, so be polite and ask them nicely. Maybe you get a useful response.

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If you're certain your paper is within the scope, write back to the editor and ask them if they're sure (because they published another paper on the same theme recently, for example). It could be human error.

However, don't expect too much, because it could be they were going to desk reject anyway and just sent you the wrong reason.

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Scope of this answer: mathematics.

In mathematics, the "scope" of a journal is commonly understood to mean the set of topics that are considered appropriate subject matter for the journal. This is consistent with the regular meaning of "scope", which the dictionary defines as "the extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant".

So in mathematics at least, an editor should not normally tell you your paper is out of scope simply because it is not good enough for the journal. If an editor does that, they either don't understand English well, or they are sloppy with their language (more sloppy than one should be when writing sensitive emails in the capacity of a journal editor, in my opinion); or they are not sloppy but are knowingly choosing this euphemistic phrasing in a misguided attempt to be "more polite" as @BryanKrause puts it (also a bit euphemistically, I think) in his answer.

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