Dealing with Rejection

At SEA, I had a good discussion with two junior scholars about the following question. We thought this would make a good blog entry.  Also — let us know how you handle this issue by responding to our first “Hidden Curriculum” poll! And — feel free (as always) to leave comments, especially if you disagree.

Q: When your paper is rejected, what do you do with the reviews? Do you revise the paper before sending it our again, and if so, how much revision is necessary?

Author: Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame

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There are two mistakes that authors typically make when their papers are rejected. The first is to ignore the reviews and resubmit the paper to a new journal without revisions. The second is to behave as if the paper received an R&R. Both approaches should be avoided, for different reasons.

Ignoring the reviews – or at least failing to make any revisions to the paper – is a perilous and shortsighted strategy. Authors should ask themselves: are you really so smart, and the reviewers so ignorant that none of their critiques and suggestions are worth addressing?  I appreciate the urgency in getting one’s work published (especially for untenured faculty and graduate students), given how long the review process takes. But, let’s face it: responding to feedback from reviewers usually makes our work better. By ignoring the reviews, authors are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate feedback that should improve one’s chances of getting his/her paper accepted upon submission to a new journal.

Also, it is not uncommon for a resubmitted paper to be sent to the same reviewers that originally evaluated the paper. It seems unlikely that such a reviewer would be generous or forgiving in his/her “re-review” if s/he finds that an author completely ignored his/her thoughtful suggestions in their initial review.  (Yes – I have been this reviewer, on more than one occasion.)

The second mistake — behaving as if the paper received an R&R – is more insidious. The author may have good intentions and genuinely want to improve his/her work. However, the problem with this is approach is that the author is being too deferential to the reviewers’ judgments.  Reviewers’ suggestions are not all equally good, and the author must do some serious sifting to determine which revisions should be incorporated in the paper. (See below.) Another problem with this approach is that it can take a great deal of time to fully respond to all of the reviewers’ comments. This is just wasted time that unnecessarily delays the ultimate publication of the paper.

Here is how I recommend proceeding after having one’s paper rejected:

First, take a deep breath, and read the reviews as soon as you get them.  Don’t delay. It’s disappointing to experience rejection but remember: the reviewers really want to help you make your paper better. Just get on with it!

Next, read the reviews and look for points of consistency and disagreement across them. If all three reviewers point out that the framing of your paper needs improvement, or that your models are mis-specified, then you should definitely address these concerns before resubmitting. Also – contemplate any differences of opinion about your paper. It is not uncommon to get conflicting evaluations and advice from reviewers. When this happens, you might consider getting a peer or your advisor/mentor to help you talk you through the problem. Finally, avoid the temptation to accentuate the positives in the reviews and dismiss the negatives. Remember – your goal is to improve your paper, so take all critiques and suggestions seriously.

After carefully reading the reviews, and giving them some serious thought, it’s time to make some decisions. Take three highlighters and assign a different color to each of three categories of comments: (1) a great idea; I will address it (green), (2) a judgment call; I may address it after some further thought (yellow), and (3) an unhelpful suggestion; I will ignore it (pink/red).

Based on the number of changes in categories one and two, set a firm deadline for resubmitting the paper. Prioritize this process and work fast.  I suggest a deadline of two to four weeks (depending on how much revision needs to be done).

Finally, remember: your goal is NOT to make the paper perfect before resubmitting. It never will be, so – let it go. It simply has to be good enough to get an R&R, and hopefully, your revisions in response to the reviewers’ feedback will help you get above the bar this time. Good luck! 

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One comment

  1. I Deal With Rejection That People Who Doesn’t Care About Me Or They Don’t Want Me In Their Personal
    Business Or They Want To Make Fun Of Me And Refuse Get To Know Me Because I’m Not Like Them A
    nd They Just Want To Get Rid Of Me And Throw Me Out Of Their Lives And Maybe They Don’t Treat Me
    The Way I Deserved To Be Treated Poorly With No Respect From People!

    PS I Am A Rejected Man Who Deserves Nothing Without Love And Respect From People And I Am Over
    thrown By Strangers And Their Pets!

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