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Avoiding Common Mistakes that lead to Journal Rejection

Researching and then writing and submitting your research papers present a challenge at every turn. Below are common mistakes, collected into a few categories, which quickly lead to a manuscript’s rejection. Avoid them to avoid getting rejected!

1. Editorial (form and preparation) mistakes

a. Not paying attention to/ following guidelines in Information for Authors (IFA)

Scientific journals provide detailed IFA for good reasons. As an author, strictly adhere to them! Abiding by the IFA will almost always result in having your submission sent out for review. Not following the IFA could mean outright rejection, or having the paper returned to you for remedial work before it can be considered.

b. Not using good grammar/proper English

It’s a relatively common occurrence for an editorial office to receive a submission which, although potentially brilliant, is incomprehensible because it is poorly written or contains improper English. If you plan to submit to an English-language journal, enlist the help of a native English speaker or an English editing service to review the paper beforehand. Don’t let language stand in the way of your great ideas being seen by the peer reviewers.

c. Including poor quality figures/illustrations

This item is part and parcel of following the IFA, but is of such importance that it bears repeating. Make sure your figures and illustrations are of the highest resolution, best quality and largest digital file size possible. 

2. Content mistakes

a. Submitting a topic that is outside the journal’s scope

Submitting a paper that is outside a journal’s scope of interest usually represents a lack of preparation on the part of the author. Save yourself a lot of time by researching your target journals and submitting to those that best fit your topic. You may also consider using a journal finder tool.

b. Submitting a manuscript that lacks novelty

Lacking the novelty effect is perhaps the primary reason why otherwise solid and well-conducted submissions get rejected. Even the best of well-written research will be rejected if it reports nothing new.

c. Submitting a manuscript that lacks scientific significance

Similar to a lack of novelty, a properly researched paper may be rejected if it doesn’t bear scientific significance and move the research forward. You may have discovered something new, but newness doesn’t necessarily equate to significance. Consulting with your department chair and other colleagues will help you gauge the scientific significance to your findings before you write them up in manuscript form.

d. Not clearly stating the hypothesis

You may know what you want to communicate in your manuscript but might not have articulated it clearly. Before you begin to write, make sure you express your hypothesis in language that is crystal-clear. If you are not clear, reviewers and other readers won’t be either.

e. Having data that doesn’t support conclusions or making inconclusive results

Many papers present data which simply doesn’t support their conclusions. In some instances, the gap between data and conclusions is too wide for reviewers to accept. In other instances, data presented simply doesn’t point to any particular result. Often this situation occurs because of employing poor methodology.

f. Using poor methodology and making poor/inappropriate statistical analysis

It’s always a good idea to engage in an extended consultation with a biostatistician familiar in study design before launching into data acquisition for your research. Such experts will help you know exactly what sort of data you’ll need to gather and in what quantities, and what statistical tests you’ll need to conduct in order to prove your hypothesis. Following their advice will yield statistically significant, valid conclusions.

g. Having a small patient population and short follow-up (for biomedical submissions)

Proving biomedical hypotheses requires sufficiently large numbers of patients with sufficiently long follow-up periods. It is no surprise that studies which enrol multiple research centres and tens of thousands of patients, together with data on multiple years of patient follow-up, yield the most reliable results and establish standard-of-care protocols. Manuscripts of small studies with limited patient numbers, and only a few months of follow-up, will probably be returned to authors; editors will ask authors to re-submit once they have larger numbers and longer follow-up.

3. Ethical mistakes

a. Submitting your manuscript to more than one journal at once

As an author, submit each paper to only one journal at a time. Submitting the same manuscript to multiple journals at once (known as duplicate submission), waiting to see which journals will accept it, is an example of scientific misconduct.

b. Submitting a manuscript that has been previously published in part or entirety

You can certainly quote and reference your previously published work, but don’t cut and paste earlier text and images into new research papers, to avoid being guilty of self-plagiarism. Your new submissions should contain new content.

c. Not obtaining Internal Review Board (IRB) approval or consent for use of animal or human subjects (medical)

Before you embark on your medical research using human or animal subjects, be sure to obtain your institution’s review and blessing of your research protocol.

d. Not disclosing financial conflicts of interest (COIs)

Part of the submission process involves disclosing financial involvements of authors. Be sure to include all disclosures at the point of manuscript submission to steer clear of a COI.


If you are aware of these common mistakes, you’ll be ahead of the curve as you prepare and submit your manuscript for review. Avoiding them will move your manuscript forward to the peer review process


Read next (second) in series: Reasons for Desk Rejection – and how to avoid it


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