Journal Rejection Due to Content – An Excellent Opportunity
What author receives rejection without something of an unpleasant jolt? Perhaps you thought that highly respected journal was a little beyond you or that Ivy League university press unlikely to publish your manuscript, at least at this stage in your career. However, you also thought your work was sound and publishable or you would not have submitted it for consideration at all. You might have felt able to cope with feedback about the odd grammatical construction that comes across as awkward or punctuation that does not adhere to publisher guidelines, but that is not what you received from the acquisitions editor. Instead, the content of your document has come under attack – yes, unfortunately, that is how it will feel – and you find yourself dumbfounded. Even one of those frustratingly unhelpful rejections via form letter would have been more welcome.
Although content is such a broad category and each situation will have unique qualities that make it almost impossible to comment in a general way, a rejection based on content can become a nightmare or an opportunity depending on how the problem is approached. Given that human nature renders it all too easy to fall into the nightmare scenario, I will focus instead on a few suggestions for considering criticism of content an opportunity for growth and success.
• First and foremost, if the content of your writing has been criticised, it has also been read by the editor and/or peer reviewers. This means that your topic proved sufficiently interesting to receive serious consideration, and feedback of a specific nature indicates that the interest persisted despite the problems detected. Examining the comments seriously, devising strategies to resolve the problems and communicating with the editor to negotiate resubmission may well earn you successful publication. This is an opportunity in two ways: you improve your work and get a second chance to publish it.
• Sometimes criticism of content is actually criticism of how content is presented. If your descriptions and explanations of your research are unclear or confusing, readers may be misled about your procedures, results, conclusions and so on. When you assess feedback on content, ask yourself if it is possible that your reader(s) might have misunderstood your meaning. If so, communicating with greater clarity or sophistication might be in order, in which case you have the opportunity to improve your writing and language skills while gaining valuable knowledge about your readers.
• By providing you with critical commentary on the research you have conducted and the writing in which you have reported it, constructive feedback on content can save you from the blunder of publishing something you may one day regret. Painful as it might seem when it first comes, this criticism is one of the most valuable gifts you will receive as an academic or scientist, and upon reflection you may even feel gratitude towards the editor and/or peer reviewers who provided it. True, that might prove a slow-growing emotion, but do be sure to express your thanks when communicating with the editor about revisions and resubmission.
Finally, keep in mind as you work to make an opportunity of a potential nightmare that not all criticism is valid and not every publisher you approach will be right for your work. Remember that you are the one who is ultimately responsible for what you publish. You may be able to cut half a document away through careful editing, but deleting the aspects that give your research integrity and meaning is never acceptable. You may need to define for yourself exactly what your work is, why it is important to you and your field of study, and ultimately stand up for what you believe best, and this can be an incredibly beneficial process as well.