5 Reasons for Rejection After Peer Review

by Elizabeth Oommen George
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For every research paper that is successfully published, there are thousands more that get left behind and there are many reasons for rejection. In fact, manuscript rejection rates can be as high as 97% in some reputed international journal publications.1 Yet, to assume that these paper rejections are because the manuscripts lack substantive value would be an oversimplification. The peer review process stands as a pivotal gateway for reliable, high-quality scholarly publishing; permitting only the finest contributions to walk past its threshold. This is why the scientific community lends serious consideration to papers published in peer-reviewed journals. In this article, we look at the possible outcomes of the peer review process, the key reasons for rejection, and some tips for authors to maximize their chance of acceptance.

Table of Contents

Possible outcomes of the peer review process

The outcome of the peer review process2 may vary from one journal to another, and some journals may have their own unique categories or terminology for review outcomes.

Acceptance: Reviewers find the manuscript fit to be accepted for publication.

Minor Revisions: Reviewers may recommend minor revisions before accepting the manuscript.

Major Revisions: Reviewers may recommend significant revisions for manuscripts that have potential; authors are given the chance to revise and resubmit the paper for re-evaluation. This is also called conditional acceptance.

Reject and Resubmit: Reviewers may recommend rejecting the manuscript in its current form but suggest that the authors could resubmit it for consideration provided they make substantial revisions.

Rejection: Different than the decision above; this is when reviewers reject manuscripts outright because they do not meet the journal’s standards in terms of originality, quality, or relevance.

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Reasons for rejection after peer review

Let us examine a few key reasons for rejection during the peer review process: 3,4

Absence of innovation

Within the peer review process, reviewers employ various criteria in their evaluation of manuscripts. Among the top reasons for rejection is failing the litmus test of novelty. Should the manuscript fail to offer substantial and original ideas, which could lead to the advancement of the field, it runs a heightened risk of paper rejection.

Poor study design

Another of the common reasons for rejection is poor study design. This includes inappropriate research, biased sampling, unreliable data collection methods, improper statistical analysis, and other shortcomings that compromise the rigor and validity of the research, leading to manuscript rejection.

Insufficient data

Inadequate data often leads to manuscript rejection during the peer review process, as it indicates that the data collected doesn’t convincingly support the conclusions. Here, the reasons for rejection may include too small sample sizes affecting parameter precision, short follow-up limiting the impact assessment, unreliable data collection, and incorrect statistical analysis that could yield misleading results.

Inadequate literature review

For research papers that don’t thoroughly cover existing subject literature or where the literature review is only done on a surface level, it can be a reason for rejection during the peer review process. The main factors behind this verdict are the omission of key studies, non-critical evaluation, outdated sources, and lack of relevance to the research in question.

Poor language and readability

Language quality and readability also contribute to manuscript rejection during the peer review process, where poorly written and difficult-to-comprehend papers are delegated to the reject pile. This usually happens where there are too many grammatical errors, excessive jargon that distances relevant non-specialists, convoluted sentence structures, and unclear writing that hampers message clarity.

Here, it’s important to acknowledge the emotional impact of paper rejection on authors, regardless of the reasons for rejection. Here are some things you can do to improve your chances of success.

How to sail through the peer review process

To significantly improve the likelihood of future submission acceptance, early career researchers can follow these expert tips:5,6

Comprehensive Literature Review: Conducting a comprehensive review to understand the gaps in knowledge within your field lays the foundation for a study that seamlessly integrates with the existing body of knowledge. This process not only aids in identifying areas ripe for investigation but also contributes to the development of precisely defined and feasible research questions.

Suitable Research Design: Carefully evaluate the available design types for their respective strengths and limitations. Your choice should be linked to the type of data your study requires and the specific conclusions you intend to draw.

Robust Data Collection: Choose data collection methods that are acknowledged for their reliability and validity. This ensures that the data you gather accurately represent the topic of investigation, laying a solid foundation for robust and trustworthy findings.

Clear Communication: Ensure transparency when presenting your results, which gives readers a clear and detailed account of your research methods and data analysis. This clarity aids in the evaluation of your study’s credibility and validity. Prioritize simplicity and accuracy in language, employ concise writing techniques, and seek feedback to refine your work for maximum impact.

After dedicating so much time and effort to a research project, getting a manuscript rejection can be disheartening and slow you down. However, it’s essential to view this positively and use peer review feedback as a chance for growth, allowing you to refine your work and become a better researcher. We hope all the advice and tips provided in this article help you move closer to your goals. All the best!


  1. Ghost, M. 11 Reasons Why Research Papers Are Rejected. Scispace, October 2021. Available online at https://typeset.io/resources/11-reasons-why-research-papers-are-rejected/
  2. Submission & Peer review, Wiley Author Services website. Available online at https://authorservices.wiley.com/author-resources/Journal-Authors/submission-peer-review/peer-review.html
  3. Bowler, S. Common reasons why academic papers are rejected by journal editors, Deakin University. Available online at https://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/269831/reasons_papers_rejected-_24.08.pdf       
  4. Thrower, P. Eight reasons I rejected your article, Elsevier, September 2012. Available online at https://www.elsevier.com/connect/8-reasons-i-rejected-your-article       
  5. McLaughlin, H. How to increase your likelihood of publishing in peer reviewed journals – London School of Economics blog, October 2016. Available online at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/10/20/how-to-increase-your-likelihood-of-publishing-in-peer-reviewed-journals/
  6. How to get published in an academic journal: top tips from editors, The Guardian, January 2015. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/03/how-to-get-published-in-an-academic-journal-top-tips-from-editors

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