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Your Academic Journal Article Has Been Rejected… Now What?


If your paper is rejected, it is perfectly natural to feel glum or to take the rejection as a personal affront. After all, you invested hefty portions of your intellect, creativity, research activities and energy in writing the paper. Plus, you were likely tingling with excitement at the thought of producing a landmark work that would be such a significant contribution to the studies surrounding your subject area. Well, the jury is in and it is time to confront the reality at hand.

Recover and assess

Take a few days to decompress and then give serious consideration to the feedback you received. No doubt, you will confirm that a good amount of what you wrote is provocative and discussed cohesively. Yet, you have to be honest with yourself in order to assess the reasoning given in the rejection letter. Did your paper add significantly to the prevailing research? Was your methodology fitting? Or should you perhaps have submitted the paper to a journal more connected to your area of study?

While you may not concur with all the views in the rejection letter, you nonetheless have been presented with applicable observations and you can now determine how to move forward with matters. In fact, your sense of relief may be surprisingly palpable. By the way, sending a brief and respectful follow-up note to thank the editor can't hurt, although it is not obligatory.

A follow-up note to the editor is always a good idea, even after receiving a rejection letter.
A follow-up note to the editor is always a good idea, even after receiving a rejection letter. Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash.

Careful consideration of the rejection letter

It is not uncommon for writers to instinctively raise up their defenses after having received rejection letters. Consequently, the most substantive observations or critical comments can be overlooked or suppressed. When you receive a letter of rejection, you must study it thoroughly; the reasons for the rejection are there. It may even behoove you to have someone else look over the rejection letter. A colleague in your field, or at least someone else who has taken part in the journal-submission process, may clarify some points for you.

It is important to note that the journal editor may have rejected the article without passing it on for further review. You cannot always be certain of this because some journals do not include a lot of information in the letter. On the other hand, some letters will be full of vital observations by the reviewers and the editor. Again, you will rarely agree with everything that is expressed in a rejection letter. However, remember that far more often than not, there will also be a lot of accurate and beneficial observations. Although a reviewer's personal bias, or belief that he or she knows better, is a reality that is not going away, you can concentrate on the comments that resonate with you. Digesting this information carefully will be of great aid to you in identifying areas of your article that can be improved. Consequently, the time spent in modifying your paper and in planning resubmissions will be validated.

Another frequent reason for rejection is that the journal may not be the right fit for your subject matter. While there may be scores of publications that cover your general area of study, your particular perspective or methodology will not be applicable to the range and intent of several of these journals. Examine a journal's website carefully beforehand so you can determine if it is a good choice for you.


Most journals will detail how you can proceed with an appeal of your article's rejection. Bear in mind that only a small percentage of appeals are successful. There are instances where writers can also request additional reviewers. This is shaky territory but, in order to be one of those rare cases that succeeds, you must remain completely level-headed and present a cogent defense based on thoroughly-considered methodological and editorial procedures. You cannot base your reasoning on personal bent and you can never negatively attack the editor or your reviewers. The journal's editor has already made a decision and is fully aware that you believed strongly in your work when you submitted it. Remain civil and appeal only if you steadfastly believe that there was confusion or oversight in the decision to reject.

Following author guidelines

When looking at ways to proceed after a rejection, you should perhaps first address something that might seem laughingly obvious: author guidelines. Before you can even consider the substance and appeal of your writing and research, the paper has to be presented properly—i.e., it must adhere strictly to submission requirements and formatting. Journals receive huge numbers of submissions, so don't make it easier for them to reject your paper.

A journal's website will outline how it wants manuscripts to be prepared and it will almost never accept any article that has been previously published. Moreover, don't send your manuscript to more than one journal at a time and make sure that you and your co-authors (if any) have been approved to release the material if you undertook the research at an academic institution or business where you are employed. Lastly, make sure you are cognizant of any copyright issues that might surround the publication of your paper.

Resubmit—revised or not

You can submit a rejected article to another journal without revising it. After all, reviewers frequently are not in total accordance with their perceptions and another editor may decide to go with your paper. If you are subsequently rejected one or two more times, then you can start tackling revisions if you are still determined to have the paper published. In any event, you at least did not spend any time rewriting before your latest rejections. Conversely, it is widely common for writers to promptly revise an article after rejection and to then send it to another journal. Some writers will do this on several occasions with a paper that has been rejected more than once.

Choose an appropriate journal

In general, the decision to submit to another journal can proceed in one of two directions—upward or downward. If your first submission was to a journal that is not generally judged to be in the upper echelon in its field, then you can either aim for a journal of similar stature or you can reach for a more esteemed publication. It is not uncommon for writers to initially submit to two or three journals of mid-range standing and to then up the ante after having made revisions on previous rejections.

Some writers will take the opposite track by submitting to the most prestigious journals first. If rejected, they begin aiming progressively downward on subsequent submissions. Whatever the case, be prudent in leaving yourself ample time to revise and reformat if you are submitting to another journal. Your changes are going to take time, so consider the deadline and be ready for the new submission as quickly as you can.

One last thing: some journals will list acceptance rates on their sites. This, of course, may influence you in choosing the journal to which you will resubmit. However, don't rely too heavily on the stated rates, as they are often estimations. While some publications will use these rates to enhance their standings, they will remain careful not to over-inflate their reputations. After all, journals naturally want to attract and publish the best researchers and writers. You can certainly consider acceptance rates when they are available, but they should not be your sole measuring stick when making a decision on a journal.

Alternate platforms

Striving to be a successful writer/researcher is to be emotionally invested in your work at levels similar to those of athletes and entertainers; the higher the level of attainment, the more rewarding. You are in fact continually working at your craft at all the hours of the day, metaphorically and literally. You must be steadfast and focused in refining your methods, writing skills and interpretive powers. It is not easy to give up on an article in which you have invested so much work.

Therefore, you should take solace in the fact that, despite a rejection, there can still remain a significant amount of statistical data or findings in your article that can be of considerable benefit to other researchers and colleagues, and even to curious or enlightened individuals in the general public. With the continually-burgeoning body of online destinations, blogs and social media sites, it is definitely possible to find other platforms on which to present your work. You will have to be discerning in determining the stature and validity of these sites, but they are out there and your work would be easily available for study and citation.

Consider alternate publishing platforms for making your research available to a wider audience.
Consider alternate publishing platforms for making your research available to a wider audience. Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash.


If your article has been rejected a number of times, you will likely see recurring observations on the rejection letters. At this point, beware of becoming obsessed with one article. You should certainly resubmit one or two times, maybe three, but the writing may be on the wall after that—pun intended. Eventually, you won't be able to further clarify or strengthen your writing if your arguments are suspect or if there are road blocks that you simply cannot overcome.

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