Getting a manuscript rejected by a journal is painful. Unfortunately, it happens to a lot of us. To avoid it as much as possible, it’s important to be aware of the most common reasons for rejection.

Poor organization and language quality

For your paper to be easily followed and understood, it should read as a logical sequence of sentences and arguments, with a clear structure. Think of signposting (e.g. firstly, finally…) and conjunctions to provide links between different ideas (cause and effect, contrast, etc). Very poor language (not just typos, but issues at the sentence level) is a common cause of rejection for non-native speakers of English. Check out Writefull for automated proofreading help.

Manuscript does not fall within the journal’s aim and scope

Journals specialise in a given field, and typically within a specific area in that field. This means that anything falling outside their scope will be rejected by the journal editor. This doesn’t mean that your research is unworthy, but simply that you’ve picked the wrong avenue for publication. Make sure you do your research by visiting journal websites and browsing previous issues from the archive. You can also talk to your supervisor or colleagues for advice.

Lack of originality/significance to the field

Your manuscript should not look like something that’s been published before, or people won’t read it (and publishers want your paper to be read). Instead, it should contribute enough new knowledge to your field that it will attract interest from the research community. It should also have clear implications, whether theoretical or practical. Originality may be demonstrated through the novelty of your research topic, or an innovative methodology or design.

Flaws in the study design

This is a very common reason for manuscript rejection, and unfortunately one that’s impossible to address short of re-doing your study. A lot of research studies are badly conceived from the start, with poorly formulated research questions and/or inadequate methodologies to answer them. Think long and hard about your samples (participants or other), the validity and reliability of your tests, or the relevance of your statistical analyses, from the very beginning.

Lack of supporting evidence for the conclusions reached

If the interpretation of your results is flawed, meaning there is no supporting evidence for your conclusions based on your findings, your paper will be rejected. Make sure you don’t make oversized claims, as reviewers will see through that easily. It is always better to exercise caution in your discussion section, steer clear of generalizations, and acknowledge limitations due to your sample(s) or methodology. It is the role of replication studies to fill the gap.