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I am having very frustrated at the turn of events and review process. I had sent a paper to an International Journal. The paper was based on my work and well received by PhD committee of my Institute. The paper was submitted 3 years back. The paper was in status "Editor Assigned" for 6 months. After that its status changed to "Under Review". After 9 months in this status (15 months after submission date), I sent a polite mail to editor asking about how much time it will take to complete review? There was no response. After I month similar gentle mail was sent. There was no response. After month, I again sent query (18 months after submission). At that Editor replied saying that they could not review the paper as assigned reviewers either refuse to review or did not agree to review. The paper was rejected after 18 months without any review comment.

So how does one know where it requires improvement? If paper was not of required quality why they kept with them for so long?

I feel that it is wrongly rejected.

Is it correct answer?

How can it show status as Under Review and then Editor says no Reviewer did not accept or refuse. My understanding is that paper goes in "Under Review" state only after "Reviewer" accepts to review. So what would have happened? Why Editor requires 3 months just to tell the status and comes back with mail like this? Editor did not bother reply to mail. Is it that he got angry because of persistent queries.

I had even worst experience with next Journal. The paper was submitted and it remained in status "With Editor" for 9 months. Wiser by experience, I asked Editor about status? After persisting with it for about 2 more months, Chief Editor said that they rejected paper based on quick review as paper is not suitable to Journal as it does not meet its criteria like Originality, Depth etc. Again there no review comments about improvement.

It is not sour grape, I do feel that around 60% papers in that Journal do not possess these qualities and have been published in 6-8 months (after revision). If paper is not of required standard, they could have rejected in 2-3 months, why it took them such long time. If I would not have sent mail, probably it would have remained with them for long time. This work is now 3 years old not published anywhere and I even do not know what to do to improve. I am feeling very bad and really do not know what to do?

What would happened? Is it wrong to ask editors about status even after 9 months or year? Our University requires two Journal publication for PhD thesis submission and really do not what to do?

Many friends are suggesting that publish in Open Access Journals.

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    Please read Take a deep breath before writing and edit your post accordingly. – ff524 Jan 8 '15 at 11:32
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    Please use paragraphs. The "Chief Editor said ...paper is not suitable to Journal as it does not meet its criteria like Originality, Depth etc" This is a huge red flag that probably the paper is not good enough (by far) at the journals you are trying to submit it to. – Alexandros Jan 8 '15 at 11:42
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    @Alexandros: Or the paper may have been sent to the wrong journal. A year or more under review without any sort of feedback is completely unacceptable. – aeismail Jan 8 '15 at 11:46
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    We could have a better understanding of your situation if you pasted the exact wording used by the editors of both journals (editing out what could identify you or the journal). – Cape Code Jan 8 '15 at 15:18
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    "Many friends are suggesting that publish in Open Access Journals." - Have those "many friends" successfully completed their PhD in the same department as you, and (if available) does anyone who has the role of an advisor in your PhD recommend the same? – O. R. Mapper Feb 20 '15 at 9:02
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The delays you mention are really excessive (note: I feel that way even though I am a mathematician), and your anger is quite deserved for that.

From what I heard from editors I know, it can happen that a paper is sent to successive referees who decline to referee, or worse accept and then don't do the job and do not respond to queries. At some point, the editor have to either do a referee's job themselves, which usually do not happen, or reject the paper. Usually, this happen with papers that are not clearly wrong or uninteresting, but that are difficult to read and do not really interest the tentative referees. In some case, you can have better result by submitting to a different, e.g. more specialized journal.

In your case, what bothers me is that being in a PhD, you have an advisor. What does she think of the paper? If there is no obvious problem in it, did you submit to journal suggested by her? On what ground? Is it possible that your institute, whose PhD committee you says received your work well, has much lower standards than international journals?

In any case, the only effective answer to your question is: seek feedback from a knowledgeable individual. It could be your advisor, but if needed it could also be another senior researcher in your field and institute, or even someone working elsewhere in your field. The closer the better, as it increase the probability of getting the feedback and the probability that it will be honest.

Last, as already mentioned, open access journal can be as toughly selective as subscription journals, and should not be considered easy shots when everything else has failed. I would not recommend submitting to a shady journal, let alone an OA one since shady OA journal often charge several hundred of dollars for publication.

  • Note that not all open access journals charge high publishing fees. I'd suggest rephrasing the last sentence of your answer accordingly. – a3nm Feb 10 '16 at 9:16
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    @a3nm: I never heard of a shady OA journal not charging at least in the hundreds of dollars, but I may just not know about them. I do know good OA journal which do not charge authors, I will thus edit to avoid confusion. – Benoît Kloeckner Feb 10 '16 at 15:30
  • oh, sure, I was also thinking of reputable OA journals – a3nm Feb 10 '16 at 17:26
  • I think before one has done a significant amount of reviewing and some amount of editing, it is not easy to understand journal decisions. But one receives regularly papers that are not outstanding in quality and borderline in topic, but not borderline enough to warrant a desk rejection, where it can be quite excruciating to find reviewers who are prepared to do the job. It is not easy to convey to an author that their work is possibly (I do not claim that this is the OP's case) mediocre, uninteresting etc. until one has seen the whole spectrum of good, strong, excellent, brilliant papers. – Captain Emacs Nov 26 '16 at 14:20
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I have had this happen a couple of times. In my case it meant that the paper was incomprehensible, and the referee(s) couldn't figure out what to make of it. The solution was to rewrite the papers in question and break them up into pieces, and more generally work on the exposition. Eventually I got all the work accepted into journals although it took a few years to sort everything out.

Another possibility I suppose is that you are a "crackpot" and your writeups were technical gibberish. But I will give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this is not the case. At any rate, if you are a crackpot nothing we say here is going to really help anyhow :)

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    Even so, you ought to receive a review response saying that it was incomprehensible. Perhaps something along the lines of "It is not clear how the method disclosed could be applied to the motivating scenario" or something similar. – Ben Voigt Oct 5 '15 at 18:31
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    I suspect that most crackpots whose writeups are technical gibberish get their papers rejected much faster. – Peter Shor Jun 17 '17 at 12:23
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    @BenVoigt You would think so but I have heard reports that some referees at top journals will sometimes just disregard papers which they feel are gibberish and therefore that they were unreasonably asked to referee. – Zarrax Jun 22 '17 at 17:09
  • Yet another possibility is that the author is from a "wrong" zip code. I have had experiences where rotten articles from "elite" Western universities are published and yet much better (in my opinion for sure, but objectively also I hope) articles from "third world" countries are given a very shabby treatment. – Tryer Apr 6 at 7:37
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I would not say your manuscript is wrongly rejected. What I would say is that it should perhaps not have taken such a long time.I can see many reasons for the delay, all dealing with personal issues, some understandable and some not so. Sometimes you just have to live with it. So the real problem here seems to be a lack of response as to why exactly the manuscript was rejected. It could be low quality, it could be out of scope and thus very different reasons. I think it would be only fair to ask the editor for a clarification, based on the fact that you accept the rejection and wish to see how it can be improved.

I think a journal should provide feedback on reasons for a rejection but also note that the reasons one journal rejects the manuscript may not be the same reasons another journal does so, if, for example, the reasons for rejection is "out of topic". So trying to get a sense of the reasons may be key to how you should proceed.

Another, to me, obvious way forward is to have a peer look at your manuscript so that you get feedback that can help you decide how to proceed.

Finally, Open Access is not equal to easy to publish. Yes, there are murky waters where shady open access publishers reside but you need to chose your journal with some care., Having a publication in a low quality or even dubious journal will not be of much use to you. So Open Access is not an either or choice but one of the alternatives and chosing the right journal includes also Open Access journals.

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I happen to be an editor for a new Open Access journal. I concur with the the general sentiment of the other commentators. I have had similar things happen to me before as well. One Editor flat-rejected a paper of mine on the grounds that "there were already a lot of papers on that subject", even though I had conducted an exhaustive search and even enlisted the help of my school library team and we could not find even one.

The biggest advice I can give you is this; whether you choose a traditional journal, or an Open Access journal, they should have their guidelines clear. In their submission guidelines section they should clearly enumerate what fees are involved, if any. Many Open Access journals like mine don't charge a fee to read or publish. They should also clearly explain the turn around time from the editors. Some journals are published Quarterly so a review period of several months is common, but I have seen many journals with a turn around time of 4-6 weeks. The journal should also clearly explain the review process. For example, in my journal, I first quickly review the article for topic-fit to the journal. If the submission is within scope, then it is submitted to two different reviewers who conduct a double-blind review. At least one reviewer is a methodology expert and at least one is a content expert. The helps to ensure that the article is accurate. We also explain clearly what the outcomes are and what each one means. This is also a pretty common practice. If it is taking that long and the articles are being rejected by the reviewers then it sounds like either: 1. the journal you submitted to doesn't have a very large pool of reviewers, 2. the journal editor has too many submission to handle and is overwhelmed, or 3. the journal editor isn't going through and keeping the list of reviewers clean and is trying to assign articles to inactive reviewers.

In any event, don't get discouraged, just look for a different journal and try again. Check to see when the journal published an issue last and if they have their policies spelled out on the site. Good luck!

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