How to deal with scientific journal decisions about your article

As I mentioned in my previous post answers received from scientific journals can be divided into four main categories: "accept as submitted", "minor corrections needed", "major corrections needed" or "reject".

The first, “instant acceptance" is rarely encountered. Each professional in the fields of science and medicine has a unique set of emphases and sensitivities. The chances that a group of three reviewers absolutely agree with the authors on both the scientific substance and the presentation form, are very low. Hence the need to form a ranked list of submission target and not have just one.

There are two main situations in which a journal will reject an article without allowing the authors to correct and resubmit: first - reviewers think that the article does not fall within the scope of the journal and the second - critics think that the level of work is inadequate for the journal. When the reason for the rejection is a mismatch between the subject matter and the scope of the journal, there is probably not much point in arguing, and it is better to invest the time and effort in submitting to another journal, without changing the article significantly. If the reason is dissatisfaction with the level of work, it is very important to go through reviewer comments in detail and understand what they did not like. It is important to use their comments to improve the article before submitting to another journal, even if it is ranked lower.

Editors interviewed in the British newspaper The Guardian encouraged authors who receive revise-and-resubmit decisions from journals to not be discouraged to improve their paper, and resubmit. In my experience, the scope of requested changes should be a significant factor in the decision whether to implement them. When the reviewers suggest improvements in the writing style, presentation of results, discussion points, etc., it is relatively easy to correct and resubmit. In such situations, it is sometimes possible to get assistance from a more senior colleague or a professional who had previously published on similar scientific topics to broaden the range of background reading or deepen the discussion.

When reviewers ask for more results, it is necessary to check how easy it is to acquire them and evaluate how much time and resources are required to meet the recommendations of the reviewers. Are reviewers asking for a new analysis of data that already have? Do I need to get new data? Do I or my co-authors have access to the information necessary? For example, when the article describes a clinical trial, do I have access to the medical records of the participants? Is it possible to ask participants come to another study visit in order to obtain additional data? Could there be an ethical issue with the actions required to achieve the additional data?

Even if the decision is to submit to another journal, it is very important to go through all the reviewer comments, understand them, and see how we can improve the article in order to increase the chances that it is accepted in our next target journal. Sometimes, it is possible to implement only some of the reviewer comments before submitting to another journal. Keep in mind that key opinion leaders in a specific scientific field are few, and there is a chance that following submission to another journal, the article will get back to the same reviewer. In such a situation, the submission of the article without any substantial change may provoke the reviewer to reject the article.

Notes on the proper assembly of a resubmission - in the next post.

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