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I've prepared a manuscript on biomedical sciences and my advisor, who commonly reviews papers from high-impact journals, and my co-advisor, who is in the editorial board of an open-access journal both liked it. I'm very sure that my results are novel, and I did my best to prove my hypothesis.

So, I sent this paper to high-impact (around 7) journals and both sent "desk rejection" one saying "it was out of scope" and other one suggested couple other journals. We couldn't send our manuscript to those journals because they had strict word limits.

So, I decided to send it to a medium-impact journal, and again they got us from novelty and rejected it in only one day.

Again, we sent it to a good-impact journal of Elsevier, and after one week in "awaiting editor decision or reviewer confirmation" now I see "decision pending", so we probably got another rejection.

Considering our findings were novel, our written language had no issues, and we tried to do our best with what we had in the lab, what do you think is the issue?

I really don't want to send it to a low-impact journal; so shall I consider some "nonspecific area" open-access journals?

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    Considering our findings were novel, [and] our written language had no issues: It seems like there are some people who agree with you, and some who do not. Maybe you should re-evaluate your view of your work more critically? E.g., it might be helpful to hand your manuscript to a friend of yours, preferably a native speaker, who was not involved in your work and may even be from another scientific discipline, and ask them for feedback. Mistakes in the way the language is used, and confusing structure of the manuscript, may be pointed out even without understanding every detail of your paper. – RQM Sep 3 '17 at 16:26
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    have your advisors looked at it seriously (i.e, perhaps they need to take the time to pay more attention and do a rewrite if necessary.?) Most of the comments/answers you are going to get are, - this situation sounds like the paper itself needs work (which could be language, organization, presentation to be compelling to the expected reader/reviewer) etc that causes the editors to not want to waste any referee's time. – Carol Sep 3 '17 at 18:34
  • my advisors looked through it twice each, before submissions. I write the manuscript, so I might need to rewrite it. The thing is, there are papers in the journals that I send the script which are really similar to my script, in terms of the experiments done. So, I was expecting revisions after peer reviews, but got couple of desk rejects. Do you think the editor wouldn't tell us the reason for the rejection, if there are problems with the composition of the script? The rejection reasons were "not novel", or "would be more suitable for a more specialized journal" – doodle man Sep 3 '17 at 18:58
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    Are you sure that your advisors have, in fact, thoroughly examined the manuscript, and are they aware that the manuscript has been desk-rejected multiple times? Given that you describe them as very reputable scientists, I expect that they would express some kind of concern over having their paper desk-rejected multiple times, and would organize with the co-authors to have something done about the manuscript. – user63725 Sep 3 '17 at 20:18
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    In support of @glauc : it is at best unexpected that supervisors with experience reviewing top grade papers would suggest the manuscript is good only for this manuscript to be rejected without review multiple times. If the contents are iindeed good then the problem must be in the presentation of the results. – user67075 Sep 3 '17 at 20:33
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both sent "desk rejection" one saying "it was out of scope" and other one suggested couple other journals.

I am not going to lie - "out of scope" is a bit the academic version of "it's not you, it's me" in dating. Don't take this feedback as "your paper is ok, this is just not the right place for it". It may easily also just be an editor trying to be polite.

I don't know how common desk rejects are in the biomedical sciences, but in computer science they are rare enough that getting one from a regular journal (as opposed to, say, Nature or Science) is a pretty hefty red flag against a manuscript. Getting multiple desk rejects would mean that I would very critically reflect on the manuscript before trying anything further. Specifically, you say:

Considering our findings were novel, our written language had no issues, and we tried to do our best with what we had in the lab, what do you think is the issue?

I would encourage you to revisit these assumptions. I don't think that results per se are usually what gets papers desk-rejected, but either a completely inappropriate write-up, submitting to journals where your paper is entirely out of scope, or obvious lack of scientific rigour as expected in the discipline.

I have found it to be a good heuristic to look at a random selection of other recent papers in the journal you want to submit to. Even if your results are novel, your method and paper structure should be similar to some of those. If you can't find any recent paper that resembles yours, it may be out of scope. For empirical work, also take a critical look at sample sizes. If all papers talk about hundreds of participants or survey responses and you have a dozen, talking about the novelty of your results won't get you far - it may still be rejected for lack of rigour. Similarly, if (almost) all other papers are empirical and yours is completely theoretical, or the other way around, look elsewhere.

I am aware that I have not directly answered your actual question:

How to avoid desk rejection of a paper on novel findings?

The real feedback I have is - ponder the possibility that, after multiple desk rejects, your problem may not be that your findings are too novel. Get external, unbiased feedback, and find out why the paper appears so problematic to people not close to your work.

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    I, actually, kind of discovered one thing, but while preparing my manuscript, I discovered one more thing. Normally, research groups divide two findings into two scripts, and give citation to the one published first. But rather, we aimed to prepare one for a high-impact journal, so filled the paper with information. We've got another "long" article published in this recent journal before, that's why we aimed for it. I always try to send the scripts to journals with the most suitable scope. My advisors are not very open to sharing manuscripts with other researchers, but I'll try my best. – doodle man Sep 3 '17 at 17:15
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There are several reasons why your paper might have been rejected. Not knowing the journals to which you have submitted, the manuscript and the field, it is impossible (and off-topic in here) to give an accurate reason why.

Maybe the paper is poorly written, maybe it's not properly formatted, maybe the results are not novel, maybe they are novel but not sufficiently interesting to the journal/field, maybe the manuscript is confusing, maybe you are failing to highlight the novelty and the Editors are not correctly interpreting the results, maybe they are not correctly interpreting how the manuscript aligns with the journals. Maybe you are overselling your results.

In addition to xLeitix's answer, I think the first thing you should do is make sure you get an accurate and thorough evaluation of the manuscript from your advisors. If they are, as you you seem to suggest, reputable scientists who routinely publish in the journal as well as review papers for it, they should be at least slightly worried that their paper (I assume they are co-authors) is getting multiple desk-rejections. (Note that if you are submitting and resubmitting papers with them as co-authors and without their knowledge, that's a serious academic misconduct.) You also mention that they have "liked it". What do you mean by that? Was that a coffee break conversation such as "I'm thinking of preparing a manuscript on X and Y"/"Oh, that's a nice idea, I like it", or you've been discussing the results for some time, you've prepared the manuscript, your co-authors have thoroughly read, suggested modifications and finally, after a few rounds, approved it?

If they are not co-authors and (1) it's the norm to have your advisors as co-authors in your field, and (2) you have executed this particular work under their supervision, and (3) you have asked them to be co-authors and they declined, then you should take that as evidence that there's something wrong it the manuscript and they did not want to be associated with it.

In any case, talking to your advisors is the first thing you should do as soon as you get a rejection notice. If they are experienced, they should be able to calibrate the expectations given the response and the manuscript, and suggest changes accordingly.

  • Thanks glauc; we've been working on this project for about 2 years and my advisors helped me with it, at every step. I wrote the manuscript, but it already went couple of major revisions, after my advisors' comments and corrections. My advisors suggest sending the paper to a low-impact journal, but I kind of insist on keeping it at a decent impact level, as I see very similar papers published in the journals that I've submitted the script to. I was really expecting a peer review, but it just doesn't reach to peer review at all. Maybe editors do not really clearly get what we try to describe? – doodle man Sep 3 '17 at 21:05
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    Seems to me that your advisors are well aware of the manuscript and of the desk-rejects, then. I still find it uncommon that they seem comfortable with the desk-rejects, but I'm not in biomedical sciences, so who am I to judge. In any way, get their opinion on why the manuscript was rejected, and specifically ask them if they think the manuscript is weak. At this point, it doesn't seem likely that you will manage to get it past the editor without additional revision. In any way, publishing in a "low" impact journal is not necessarily bad, unless it is predatory. – user63725 Sep 3 '17 at 21:20
  • My advisors are kind of OK with it, as we are from a 3rd world country, and most scripts get rejections from high-impact journals. Sad, but true. Though, I wish editors would comment more on what's wrong with the script, so that I can revise it and submit it somewhere else... – doodle man Sep 3 '17 at 21:26
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    Maybe editors do not really clearly get what we try to describe? Maybe, but if nobody gets it, the text needs changes. Even if the reason is that you're just much better than them - a paper that isn't understood won't help anyone. – deviantfan Sep 4 '17 at 2:56
  • @doodle man Did they originally suggest sending it to a low impact journal? I think you should edit their advice into the question. – Kat Sep 4 '17 at 7:57
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From the question:

Considering our findings were novel, our written language had no issues, and we tried to do our best with what we had in the lab, what do you think is the issue?

"We tried to do our best with what we had in the lab" isn't a strongly positive statement about your work. Good quality journals want to see good quality work; trying hard in less than ideal circumstances isn't enough on its own.

And, in a comment

My advisors suggest sending the paper to a low-impact journal

So take their advice! They have much more experience than you, and it seems that they're aware of the manuscript's strength. The high-impact journals keep telling you "This isn't good enough for us", your advisors say, "This isn't good enough for them." Why don't you listen?

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