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I have seen many journals that refuse to even see the revision of a manuscript once it was rejected.

But here is the thing: Reviewers provide recommendations to what should be changed; editors then incorporate these comments in their final evaluation, highlighting the most important aspects that were missing in the manuscript.

Now, if editors refuse to see the revised and resubmitted manuscript, does it mean that those changes they suggested are just insufficient for an article to become good and publishable?

However, if there are more problems than those they pointed out, why not point to the other problems as well? Especially when they already provided lengthy review?

Or does this mean they just believe the author will not incorporate all recommendations in a sufficient manner?

Or is there something else to it?

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    I think a key point here is that good journals get plenty of decent submissions, and can afford to be picky. What incentive is there to give you a second chance?
    – avid
    Apr 25 at 15:07
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    Is the title and abstract the same? or is the content so changed that the title and abstract also need to be adjusted? If the former, then it is fair to reject because the contribution is ultimately unchanged.
    – Taw
    Apr 26 at 23:04

9 Answers 9

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This situation happens when the editor believes that the quality of the research in the paper is not up to the journal standards, regardless of correctness. The reviewer might see that the paper has problems, in addition to not being at the level of the journal, and will give tips for how to make the paper better, along with a rejection (and hopefully encouragement to resubmit to a lower journal after making corrections).

Now... If editors refuse to see the revised and resubmitted manuscript, does it mean that those changes they offered are just insufficient for an article to become good and publishable?

Yes, that's correct.

However, if there are more problems than those they pointed out, what reason is there to not point the other problems as well? Especially, if they already provided lengthy review?

It's not up to the reviewer to find every single problem with the paper, if they are rejecting it. They are just being nice and giving you a few tips. The real reason for the rejection is that the paper is not at the level of the journal. Imagine if, in math, I write a paper that basically does an exercise from a textbook, then submit it to the Annals (our best journal). Maybe my solution has some errors and they reviewer points them out. Even if I fix all the errors, the point remains that the result I proved is just not at the levels of Annals.

Or, does this mean they just believe the author will not incorporate all recommendations in a sufficient manner?

That's irrelevant, because they are rejecting the paper. But I do encourage you to actually use the feedback to fix up your paper. As a reviewer, it's very annoying when I take the time to give someone lots of feedback then they submit an unchanged version to a lower journal and I'm asked to referee it again.

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    I think this is a great answer, I would only emphasize the last point is huge. The peer reviewer has taken their precious time (generally on a volunteer basis) to give you their expert opinion about the ways in which the science and the paper could be better. To ignore it and to resubmit without modifying based on the feedback that you've obtained runs counter to the entire scientific enterprise. (Unless you have a specific reason to believe that the feedback that you've received is actually incorrect.) Apr 25 at 2:34
  • @heights1976 Yeah, I am adjusting the paper based on comments I have received (it is a painful process, but I believe it has to be done), but I am still thinking the original journal is the most suitable for it.
    – Athaeneus
    Apr 25 at 7:10
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    @Athaeneus If your paper got rejected, then the editor disagrees with you, and in this situation only the editor's opinion is relevant.
    – Alex B.
    Apr 26 at 19:09
  • "It's not up to the reviewer to find every single problem with the paper, if they are rejecting it." Also, sometimes the primary set of problems are so glaring that the secondary set of problems aren't noticed until they're resolved.
    – lfalin
    Apr 26 at 22:35
  • Great answer. I will add that sometimes the editor literally recommends "resubmitting to a less competitive journal"
    – Pronte
    Apr 27 at 18:32
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The answers so far assume that the main reason for rejection is that a manuscript is not a good fit for the journal, be it in terms of relevance or scope. However, in half of the cases where I recommend to reject a manuscripts as a reviewer, it is for scientific soundness and related reasons. (The prevalence of such cases probably strongly depends on the field.)

These manuscripts have severe methodological flaws, ignore relevant confounding factors, fail to discuss crucial points, make excessively bold claims, or are missing lots of relevant information. Usually the authors already failed to address these issues in one round of revision, indicating that they hadn’t just omitted a short argument. Such manuscripts are far from being publishable in any journal.

This does not mean that the research was totally worthless, but usually it needs to be thoroughly revisited and expanded upon, or the manuscript needs to be rewritten from scratch. I therefore cannot suggest changes in a specific checklist and the successful outcome of this process would be closer to a new manuscript than a revision. Moreover these changes are necessary before it is possible to decide whether the manuscript is suitable for a given journal in terms of relevance of scope. If this were to happen to me as an author, I would probably submit as a new manuscript, remarking that it incorporates some research of a rejected manuscript.

When recommending rejection for this reason, there is little reason to point out minor or even medium issues since they are likely to become obsolete through the required changes anyway. I usually only point out systematic flaws that the authors are likely to repeat in completely different manuscripts.

Or, does this mean they just believe the author will not incorporate all recommendations in a sufficient manner?

For whatever it’s worth, I also experienced this as a reviewer, where the authors simply did not address my comments in any proper manner (not even arguing against me) or made blatantly false claims about what they changed.

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    That's funny, I don't see any of the existing answers focusing on "relevance and scope", they all seem to address the "minimal quality, not likely to improve sufficiently" angle ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Apr 26 at 19:30
  • Are you saying that in these cases, they might as well do a new submission altogether? Are they actually told of the scientific flaws, or do they get it back as requesting simple revisions?
    – Dan Chase
    Apr 26 at 20:32
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    @BenBolker: I fail to see what you are talking about in the two older answers. While neither uses the terms quality and scope, they clearly imply that they are not about errors and similar: David White’s answer, writes things such as “The real reason for the rejection is that the paper is not at the level of the journal.” followed by an example of submitting the solution of a textbook exercise to the “highest” math journal. Dr. M’s answer explicitly states: “This does not mean that a paper is of poor quality, it could be that it is a poor fit for the journal.”
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 27 at 6:53
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    @DanChase: Are you saying that in these cases, they might as well do a new submission altogether? – Yes, the necessary changes are so much that it would be a totally different manuscript. — Are they actually told of the scientific flaws, or do they get it back as requesting simple revisions? – Of course the authors get told the reasons for rejection (unless something goes horribly wrong). What would make you think otherwise? Letting the authors polish a turd would be a horrible waste of everybody’s time.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 27 at 6:57
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Note that there are different editors and journals and potentially different attitudes in such a situation.

Reading and reviewing submissions takes time and people have lots of things to do. Some editors (often of top journals) have the attitude that it isn't the job of the reviewers and the editor to make a paper publishable that isn't when submitted initially. So if there is too much to do they will reject and not allow resubmission, because they think time of everyone involved is too precious to go through further review rounds to improve a paper that wasn't good enough in the first place.

Even without this attitude, if an editor decides to reject the paper, this means that they don't believe that there are good chances that any revision that they could realistically expect to see would not make the paper acceptable. If a revision is submitted, it costs time, and time is precious, and editors will want to avoid to invest time into revisions/resubmissions that are not good enough. In some cases, even if it is conceivable that a revision will convincingly address reviewer's objections, the editor may well think that the probability of that happening is low, and therefore the probability to waste time is high if they allow resubmission. So there are situations in which it is possible to address the issues raised by reviewers and editor, but still there is some rationality in the editor not allowing a resubmission. Editors of course also know that there are other journals, so they know that the authors can still submit and be published elsewhere, so not allowing resubmission doesn't mean a potentially good paper can't be published in the (unlikely but possible) case the authors manage to produce a quality revision.

I do know as editor and reviewer that in case resubmission is allowed, many authors try it, and my empirical estimate of the probability that a paper worth a rejection in the first go is still not up to the mark when resubmitted is very high. It's not 100% and therefore authors who manage to produce something good may find unfair that they don't get a second chance, but still, there is some rationality in this, and there are other journals to try.

Another experience is that some papers, some of which even eventually acceptable, take a lot of back and forth in further review rounds as there is so much to fix and maybe also authors and reviewers have different views on some aspects, which again costs much time and isn't necessarily the best use of time for everyone involved. This happens in particular with papers that look problematic in the first round already, and sometimes it is predictable that rejecting without allowing resubmission can prevent a frustrating process later that may also lose authors' time, who could be better off submitting elsewhere, maybe at a lower level, rather than trying to please an editor and reviewers who were unhappy in the first go.

Of course on top of that there are papers outside the journal's scope and also papers that won't be at the level of the journal even if everything raised by reviewers is addressed, because even then general interest or originality may still not suffice.

But also, honestly, if as an editor I get a first submission with obvious issues that I believe could in principle be addressed, I will reject if I have the impression that the issues are so obvious that authors should really have addressed them before submitting the paper. In that case the submission demonstrates lack of insight and maybe carelessness, and I'm not keen on seeing the result of the same authors trying the same material again (obviously they still have the right to submit something else). As reviewers and editors, our role is different from supervisors and collaborators that should deal with basic flaws during the research process before submission, and I don't want to encourage an attitude like "let's just try to submit something we are not so sure about, and let the reviewers tell us how to make a publishable paper out of it" among authors.

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  • +1 for your last paragraph. I just reviewed a paper that should have been a desk reject within five minutes, and ticked the "no, I do not want to review a revision" box, which I do very rarely. Apr 26 at 10:50
  • I think this makes a lot of sense - Sometimes I'm revising a paragraph for someone there are so many structural changes that it's not even their paper anymore if I correct it, or the whole paragraph ends up 75% red-lined!
    – Dan Chase
    Apr 26 at 20:35
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There is a very simple principle at work here that is of very broad applicability in the professional world:

People in academia (and anywhere else) don't like it when other people waste their time.

For this reason, when you submit something — anything — to a fellow professional, the other person will assume that that what you are sending them represents your best effort, not a half-baked draft or first attempt. Making this assumption is a simple defensive strategy that people adopt to protect against other people freeloading off of their time and expertise with endless rounds of revision, repeated submissions and requests for feedback.

It follows that if you want what you did (your research paper, your movie script, the powerpoint presentation on third quarter sales you are submitting to your boss at some large corporation, etc) to be taken seriously, you need to make sure you get it essentially right the first time around, because in most professional environments you will not be given a second chance. People will usually be willing to tolerate a modest amount of imperfection and give you comments to allow you to correct and improve what you did if there are some relatively minor flaws. But if your work is significantly below what is considered an acceptable quality, people will not want to spend any more time giving you chances to improve it. After all, if your original subpar work is the best or close to the best you are capable of, then allowing you to resubmit is a waste of time in such a situation.

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The length of a reviewer report does not necessarily correlate with the quality of the paper. In some cases, even very good papers of high quality receive a lot of reviewer comments. This does not mean that a paper is of poor quality, it could be that it is a poor fit for the journal. Even if you addressed all comments (and further improved a very good paper), then it could still be a poor fit for the journal.

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Scientific journals are not an educational tool in the context of which a perhaps good/clever/innovative research idea is all that we are looking for and then, reviewers take on the role of teaching the submitter how to do and communicate research, as they would do with one of their students, and, if the submitter manages that, then we publish.

Scientific journals are forums for publishing research that meets a certain professional standard (certainly not rigidly or very clearly/transparently defined, which would be almost impossible to do anyway).

So even when a reviewer lists only a series of correctable issues, but still recommends rejection, the implied assessment is that the submitter should have known better to begin with, and by not exhibiting such knowledge, the submitter has not demonstrated that they possess the required level of professional competence.

Sure, applying self-interest, one could think

"...but then, the submitter may apply all these good and helpful comments and suggestions, improve their paper and eventually publish something worthy in another journal, hence the journal that rejected ends up having spent resources that eventually benefited another journal"

Indeed. Is that bad?

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Despite the fact that this answer says:

The answers so far assume that the main reason for rejection is that a manuscript is not a good fit for the journal, be it in terms of relevance or scope ...

... the only relevant piece I can see is from this answer:

Of course on top of that there are papers outside the journal's scope

So, to expand on that slightly:

While a manuscript might be rejected without the option of submission because it's poor quality and is unlikely to be fixable, it might equally well be rejected due to lack of fit. As an editor I have rejected papers that seemed to be perfectly good examples of their type, but were simply not appropriate (and I could see no way they could be adapted) for the journal to which they were submitted (e.g., a heavily mathematical paper going to a journal read by a wide range of biologists).

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  • lack of fit should usually mean it does not go out for review in the first place...
    – Deipatrous
    Apr 27 at 8:07
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Now, if editors refuse to see the revised and resubmitted manuscript, does it mean that those changes they suggested are just insufficient for an article to become good and publishable?

No - your question might make sound logical sense if authors always followed up all sensible recommendations up in both spirit and letter.

If that were the case, you could reasonably ask: If I did all that, why is it still not enough?

In practice, we often see that authors only make cosmetic changes, do not address the core problem brought up by the reviewers, and so on.

This means that an editor may decide that these particular authors will never be able to whip the manuscript into shape, notwithstanding the soundness of the recommendations (and their exhaustiveness or otherwise), because the authors simply lack the skill, knowledge, or competence.

This is obviously a can of worms, and the way it is handled in practice is to keep the decision of rejection (1) always final (2) independent of reviewers' comments, which are (3) supplied only for the authors' own use.

Some authors can and do test the boundaries of this system by retooling a paper substantially and submitting it as a new paper to the same journal. As with everything else in live, some get away with murder and others are hanged for the smallest misstep, so your mileage may vary.

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Slightly expanding on a point raised by other answers: it's an issue of optimal investment of time of editors and reviewers. Specifically, if someone estimates that their (limited!) time will be be better invested in appraising other papers (given some generic notion of what papers they'll see), re-appraising a thing that was already acknowledged (by referees?) to have problems is suboptimal. Unless, of course, the potential payoff would be huge... which is rarely the case.

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