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Recently, I got a reject and resubmit decision from a reputed mathematics journal. I received two referee reports: the first referee suggested improving the presentation, with no recommendation of accepting or rejecting my paper. The second referee also suggested improving the presentation, and pointed out some mistakes to correct and gave a recommendation to fix the errors and resubmit.

The editor's comment was:

The paper is poorly written. Therefore, I suggest to rewrite the paper according to the suggestions of the referees and then to resubmit.

Could anybody explain me why the decision was reject and resubmit rather than major revision? Under what circumstances might editors make such a decision?

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    I cannot speak for that particular journal (or maths in general) but the way you describe, I'd say that "reject and resubmit" is another way of saying "major revision" – posdef Sep 7 '15 at 8:37
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    @posdef: Generally with a major revision, the same reviewers will review the paper. Reject and resubmit might result in a new set or reviewers. – Dave Clarke Sep 7 '15 at 9:28
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    @posdef No, those are usually different recommendations. Reject and resubmit is a nice way of saying "reject". – xLeitix Sep 7 '15 at 11:17
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    One comment: "the first referee suggested to improve the presentation with no recommendation of accept or reject my paper" - this is very likely untrue. Every reviewer is asked to give a recommendation, but not every reviewer writes her/his recommendation into the author-visible comment field. – xLeitix Sep 7 '15 at 11:19
  • If you submit a poorly written paper, it's called into question whether you can ever write a good paper. Your research might be good, but it's hard to see this in a poorly written paper (especially in math, where the slightest error can lead to a completely invalid proof), and for all they know you're a crank who thinks they have a half page proof of the Riemann hypothesis. – Matt Samuel Sep 9 '15 at 2:10
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A "major revision" decision generally implies that, if the reviewers' concerns are addressed, the paper will probably be published. (See this related question, What does a "major revision" mean?)

Sometimes when a paper is poorly written, it's hard for reviewers to judge its technical merits. (Because the presentation is so poor as to make it difficult to understand.) In these cases, a "revise and resubmit" decision often makes a lot of sense. It wasn't possible for the reviewers to properly evaluate the paper, so it's hard to say with any confidence one way or the other whether the paper will be publishable if the presentation is improved. The obvious course of action is for the authors to improve the presentation and resubmit the paper for a proper review.

Based on your description, it sounds like that may be what happened in your case, as one reviewer wasn't able to comment on anything besides presentation.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. Second referee has mentioned that paper is interesting but poorly written. If I resubmit the paper then would it be considered as a new submission? – srijan Sep 7 '15 at 16:09
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    @srijan Generally "revise and resubmit" means "revise and resubmit as new", yes. – ff524 Sep 7 '15 at 16:14
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    Thank you for your reply. Lets see what would be the fate of this manuscript? :) – srijan Sep 7 '15 at 16:43
  • you should incorporate this conversation above into the answer body. – Mindwin Sep 8 '15 at 13:17
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One key difference is that for a major revision, the authors are given a deadline and the editor in charge of the paper may need to chase the authors when the deadline expires.

For a revise and resubmit, the editor is absolved of responsibility and resubmission of the paper is completely in the authors' hands.

That said, the eased workload would hardly be the reason for an editor to suggest one over the other.

Major revision implies a kind of commitment from the editor to help get the paper into a publishable shape.

Revise and resubmit lacks such a commitment, and requires first that the authors fix the paper first.

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    I seem to remember deadlines for both major revision and revise & resubmit, but a far shorter one for the major revision (3 weeks vs. some months). Then, major revision would be a reviewer saying "I need to see that my questions were properly addressed [possibly depending on the answers]), but in principle it is possible to answer fast." whereas revise & resubmit would mean "it will take a lot of work to get this into any kind of shape". – cbeleites Sep 7 '15 at 12:06
  • Thank you very much for the nice answer. Is there any possibility that reject and resubmit paper would be accepted? – srijan Sep 7 '15 at 16:11
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    @srijan. Of course the paper can be accepted, but it will require work, often lots of work. – user3697176 Sep 7 '15 at 16:28
  • @user3697176 Thank you for your positive reply. Hoping to address all the issues raised for this manuscript? – srijan Sep 7 '15 at 16:45
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Some journals use the 'reject and resubmit' decision in order to improve their metrics. Two things start looking better this way:

1) The rate of rejections goes up, making it look like the journal is particularly picky about the quality of papers it publishes.

2) The submission-to-acceptance time decreases, making it look more appealing for people who don't want to wait ages for their reviews to come in. This is if the journal contacts the same reviewers once again. In the two experiences I've had with this type of decision (once on each side of the reviewing process, two different journals), this was indeed the case.

  • Thank you very much for the nice answer. What were the fate of your's both papers? – srijan Sep 7 '15 at 16:13
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    @srijan - Mine was accepted. This was a few years ago. The other was just a couple of weeks ago, so it's still in revision. A friend of mine also got a 'reject and resubmit' once and the paper was later accepted. All of these were in journals with a high impact factor for their respective fields. – Ana Sep 7 '15 at 18:03
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    Royal Society Interface does this... They advertise a roughly 30 day time to acceptance. I've known people who thought they had actually been rejected when it was this happening. – Joel Sep 9 '15 at 10:30
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I can speak for myself, having often been a referee: when I give such an opinion, my intention is that the authors make an overall effort to review the entire paper taking my remarks into account. If the issues are minor, then I can make a list of problems the authors should address. The ``reject and resubmit'' I use when I find this to be impossible. Reading the referee reports, I actually wonder if the referees understood what you were trying to do. If not, this is not their problem, but rather something you definitely should address.

  • Thanks for the answer. There is no such comments in the referee reports that can't be addressed. One of the referee who have given list of comments has suggested to resubmit. While another referee have given only two comments one related with the poor writing and another related to some computational analysis. All these comments can be incorporated in the revised manuscript. Still, I feel like it should have been major revision instead of the reject and resubmit. – srijan Sep 8 '15 at 6:49
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There exists a submission flow that editors try to manage. Since you talk about "a reputed mathematics journal", I exclude from the answer journals with a poor reputation, which often accept most of their submissions.

For a reputed journal, the publication of high quality content is important, and they rely on editors and reviewers, who generally perform the reviewing task in their free time. One frequent belief, among editors and reviewers, is the following: if an author submits a paper in some language and to some journal, he should follow the journal's guidelines, often including correctness in the expression, typographic rules. This is to ensure that the author has made some efforts to read the guidelines, and to "fit in the landscape" of already published papers. The look somehow precedes the content. Indeed, unless you have a sharp eye, you see the shape before the proof.

This assumes the author has chosen "this journal" among other journals. If the editor, or reviewers, feel that this prior shaping work has not been performed, they feel entitled to reject, or to revise and resubmit. The latter case might indicate that they have found some potential in the paper for that journal.

There might be exceptions: if one detects a ground breaking result, or a paper that would very nicely fit a journal, or a special issue, one might bypass the shaping, and prefer ask for a major revision, to "keep the paper around".

Briefly, to understand such a decision, one should put oneself in the editor's or reviewer's shoes.

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In case of a major revision, the author would be required to make the revisions within a particular date. This can often put pressure on the author, and the author might not completely revamp the paper due to time constraints. I think the editor felt that your paper needed to be rewritten almost completely. From the reviewers' comments, it seems that the content is good, but the presentation needs a complete change. Possibly, the editor felt that if you have no time constraints, you would be able to devote more time and revise the paper more extensively.

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