It would be surprising to learn of a scientist whose work had not been rejected by an academic journal at some point in their career. Some of the most famous scientists have been honored and given awards for work that was initially rejected. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Peter Higgs describes how an initial attempt to publish his findings regarding the particle he predicted, now known as the “Higgs boson,” was rejected. However, after making an appeal and revising his paper to give more specifics on the particle, it was accepted, leading to his sharing a Nobel Prize for the concept with François Englert.
The Higgs boson story had a happy ending; however, most appeals are not successful. Therefore, serious consideration must be given before writing to journal editors to appeal the case. Before appealing, authors must be sure that they have a strong case for their academic research or that a larger issue is at stake (e.g., systemic bias or discrimination). Only one thing can be gained—publication, however, much may be lost, including time and reputation.
Writing an Effective Appeal
There are five basic themes to writing an effective appeal letter:
- Leave emotions out of it
- Stick to the facts
- Make a point-by-point rebuttal
- Take time to re-explain key points
- Above all, be respectful
Before writing an appeal letter, wait and let your emotional response dissipate before firing back a reply. Scientists are typically driven by logic, but a rejection letter can stir up much anger, resentment, and hurt feelings, especially when so much time and effort has gone into the work submitted.
Related: Disappointed on your manuscript getting rejected? Check out this post on how to deal with journal rejection now!
Indulging in the natural instinct to strike back harshly will only result in the appeal being quickly rejected and the author’s reputation being spoiled. It is, therefore, recommended to wait 24-72 hours before responding.
In keeping with the above advice, authors should stick to the facts in their appeal letters. Journal editors will appreciate a rational response to the rejection. Authors should try to determine the specific reasons for the rejection and refute them with evidence. Referring to the similarity of past articles in the journal, thereby implying that this one should be accepted also is not a valid rationale. Remarking that other well-known scientists have reviewed and approved the work is also not a valid rationale.
The idea is to gain as much information from the journal editor regarding the specifics of why the work was rejected. Then the author can make a point-by-point rebuttal, offering to bring new data to the research where necessary. The journal editor will want to see a specific plan by which the work is strengthened and shortcomings are addressed.
Although reviewers may sometimes do a poor job in understanding the key points of a research article, it is always the duty of the author to make those points clear to the reader. Reviewers, like authors, are human. They make mistakes, they rush to meet deadlines, they have bad moods on occasion, and the author must account for this when writing. Therefore, in the appeal letter, it is important to re-explain the key points of the work, especially if there appears to be some misunderstanding.
Nobody would like to be insulted or have his or her company or employees insulted, especially when being asked to reconsider a serious decision. An author’s reputation could be ruined by one bad letter to the editor. No good can come from insulting the reviewers or making false claims against them, or from making disparaging remarks about other articles published in the journal, or from using inappropriate language. If the author respects the journal enough to want his or her work published therein, he or she should reflect that in the language of the appeal letter.
The Case for Not Making Your Case
The world of academic publishing and academic journals is changing considerably with the growth of Open Access Publishing. New methods and opportunities to publish are continually evolving. In a piece for his blog, Stephen Heard makes a case for not appealing when your article has been rejected.
But it seems to me that for an appeal to be a good idea (from the author’s point of view), at least four things have to be true all at once:
- There must be a genuine, objective wrong
- It must be a sizeable wrong
- There must be significant value in being published in the particular journal
- The handling of the appeal must be (about) as fast as review at a new journal
Dr. Heard believes that, rather than risk one’s reputation and waste valuable time, it may be just as fruitful, and less taxing on the author, to simply submit the work to another journal. Another journal may accept the work and an appeal may give the impression that the author is difficult to work with. In addition, the reasons for rejection may be justified—more work may be required. Other factors may be at play; for example, the subject of the research may simply not be a good fit for the journal at this time—subjectivity cannot be reasoned away.
Journal Policies for an Appeal Letter
If an author’s work is rejected, it is a good idea to see if the journal has an appeal policy. This will provide specific guidelines for the appeal letter. Two good examples can be found for Edorium Journals and the British Medical Journal. Appealing the rejection of academic research is like appealing the rejection of most other things—if the author chooses to commit the time and is willing to risk reputation, then success is most likely to result from keeping emotions calm, being respectful, and sticking to the facts.
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Three Cover Letter Templates to Journal Editors
Each cover letter is unique, and those addressed to journal editors by scientists and academics when they submit their writing for publication are no exception. As an opportunity to present original research in the best possible light, a cover letter is indispensible for persuading a busy editor that a manuscript is worthy of peer review. A letter can only achieve this goal, however, if it is well written, contains everything the particular journal’s author instructions request for cover letters and offers specific and detailed information about why the research reported and the paper itself are perfect for the journal and of special interest to its readers. The originality that should characterise an excellent cover letter therefore prevents the wholesale use of a universal template without significant alterations, but the three sample letters that appear below may prove helpful for scholars who are planning, formatting and drafting a professional cover letter to a journal editor.
The content of the three sample letters is entirely fictional, with the dates, names, titles and situations invented. The specifics pertinent to your own research, your manuscript and the journal you are targeting will give you the raw material to emulate these templates. The format of a traditional business letter has been observed, so contact information for the authors and editors has been provided as complete mailing addresses. This formality may not be strictly necessary when communicating with a journal editor via email, where such details are often truncated, but the complete forms are always acceptable, and proper names and titles are a necessity. If possible, the official letterhead of the university, department or other research body with which you are affiliated should be used along with your name, phone number and professional email address.
Descriptions of the research and manuscript in each of the three examples have been kept simple so that the meaning will be clear to readers of all specialisations, but there are certainly successful cover letters that delve into a good deal more detail. Letter 2 below, for instance, might productively say more about the specific lights used and tomato plants grown and provide numbers and percentages as well. Do keep in mind, however, that the clarity and accessibility offered by a short and simple approach is also valuable, particularly when writing to an editor who may not share your precise specialisation.
Letter 1 adopts the perspective of a doctoral candidate who has rewritten the literature review chapter of his thesis as a bibliographical study and is seeking publication for the first time. Letter 2 introduces a research paper written by several authors and demonstrates how to act as the corresponding author when submitting a multi-author manuscript. Letter 3 posits that the author met the journal editor at a recent conference where an earlier version of the paper now being submitted for a theme issue of the journal was presented.
Letter 1: A Doctoral Candidate Seeking His First Publication
Department of English
University of the Western Shore
San Francisco, CA, USA 98765
Dr. Brian Editing
Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography
New York, NY, USA 12345
November 8, 2017
Dear Dr. Editing,
I am writing to submit my article entitled ‘A Bibliography of Hoccleve Studies from the Fifteenth Century to 2017: Patterns of Readership and Response’ for publication in the Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography. This manuscript is based on a chapter of my doctoral thesis, supervised by Dr Hoccleve Specialist, and has not been published or submitted elsewhere for consideration.
I believe this manuscript is appropriate for the Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography because it combines a complete list and critical summary of previous studies with an in-depth analysis of not only individual contributions, but also the larger patterns of scholarship and their possible significance through the centuries. As I argue in the paper, the autobiographical nature of Hoccleve’s writing and the bouts of madness he claims to have experienced are topics upon which perspectives and approaches swing on a particularly long pendulum. Shifts in opinion regarding the literary quality of Hoccleve’s poetry are similarly striking. Current trends and the annotated Hoccleve bibliography will likely prove of special interest to many of your readers, enabling future research and encouraging scholarly self-awareness.
If you decide to consider the manuscript for publication, I suggest the following two experts as qualified reviewers:
Dr. Medieval Scholarship
Professor of English, Southern University
Dr. Manuscript Expert
Director of Medieval Studies, Northern University
Many thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.
Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Assistant
Department of English
University of the Western Shore
Letter 2: A Corresponding Author Submitting an Article Written by Several Researchers
Private Plant Research Institute
9201 Pink Greenhouse Place
Coquitlam, BC, Canada, V0V 1A1
Dr Samuel Botanist
Growing Our Greenhouse: A Journal of Current Research
2020 Glass Hill
Colorado Springs, CO, USA, 59678
November 22, 2017
Dear Dr Botanist,
I am delighted to submit an original research article entitled ‘LED Lights Increase Vitamin C Content in Greenhouse Cherry Tomatoes’ for publication in Growing Our Greenhouse: A Journal of Current Research. My colleagues and I at the Private Plant Research Institute in Coquitlam conducted the research and coauthored the manuscript; a full list of the names and affiliations of all ten coauthors is attached. We have all approved the manuscript for submission to Growing Our Greenhouse, and I have been chosen as the corresponding author.
The article is particularly appropriate for the journal’s section dedicated to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. It is, in fact, a continuation of the research presented in our article ‘Can LED Lights Really Replace the Sun for Tomatoes?’ which was published in that section of Growing Our Greenhouse two years ago. Then we were analysing the results of our first two seasons of growing tomatoes under LED lights. One of the unexpected discoveries we made as we determined which plants and lights produced the best results was that vitamin C content appeared to increase when the ripening fruit was exposed to LED light.
The research reported in the manuscript I am submitting today was designed to investigate further the apparent increases in vitamin C. Its methodology is similar to that of our earlier study, but we used only those cherry tomato plants that we had already shown could thrive under LED lights. We also established a larger number of experimental groups to explore the effects of variables such as light colour, light intensity, hours of exposure, ambient temperature and presence or absence of sunlight. Our findings were convincing to say the least, with vitamin C content doubling and sometimes trebling in fruit exposed to additional LED light. Even fruit given only LED lighting and deprived of all natural sunlight far exceeded the vitamin C content of those tomatoes exposed to natural sunlight alone.
We trust that your readers will find our hands-on empirical method as effective as they have in the past and benefit from our practices and discoveries as they grow and experiment in their own greenhouses.
Thank you for your continuing interest and consideration.
Research Director, Private Plant Research Institute
Letter 3: A Conference Participant Submitting a Paper to the Journal Editor She Met
Chair, School of Business Management
2121 University Road
York, North Yorkshire, UK, YO33 7EE
Dr Margaret Publisher
Journal of Innovative Business Studies
178B West Central Avenue
London, UK, EC9M 6BB
25 November 2017
Dear Dr Publisher,
It was a pleasure meeting you and discussing our similar interests at the Business Management conference in London a couple of weeks ago. As promised, I have revised my presentation and am submitting it for your consideration for the upcoming issue of the Journal of Innovative Business Studies dedicated to management innovations. The new title of the manuscript is ‘Empathy as a Management Strategy Yields Significant Increases in Efficiency and Productivity.’
You might recall that we discussed the challenges of reshaping my presentation, which was designed to generate in conference attendees the emotional responses it discusses, to conform to the structural requirements of the Journal of Innovative Business Studies. The journal’s author instructions were actually very helpful, and I believe the overall argument of the paper is now clearer as a result of the rearrangement. I also took a look at the recent Journal of Innovative Business Studies articles by Sally Scholar and John Researcher that you recommended. The former was particularly helpful and I have cited it more than once in my closing discussion. That discussion has benefited significantly from our long talk at the conference and I hope you do not object to my acknowledgement of your insight.
As you know, the research presented in the manuscript is original and has not been published or submitted elsewhere. My methods comply with the journal’s ethical standards, I have no conflicts of interest to disclose and I have removed all traces of my identity in preparation for blind review. I would respectfully request that Stephen Harsh not review the manuscript, however. His knowledge in this area is extensive, but you may remember from his comments at the conference that he does not share my approach to management or view my recent research with a positive eye. I believe the following two experts would serve as more appropriate reviewers of my paper:
CEO, Management Innovations UK Inc.
Chair, Department of Business Management
University of the Wolds
I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming conference in Leeds. In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your interest and consideration.
Chair, School of Business Management
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