Coping with Rejection: A Quick Guide for Academic Authors Whose Work Has Been Turned Down by a Journal
Rejection is never easy to handle, especially when you’ve worked so hard on writing, revising, and editing something as complex and challenging as a research paper. It can be crushing to receive a rejection letter after pouring your heart and soul into your study, analyzing the results, and carefully composing a paper.
However, rejection is normal in all publishing niches. Academic journals have a notoriously high rejection rate, commonly turning down papers written by even the most experienced researchers. So, if your work was rejected after your first submission, try not to take it too personally.
That’s obviously easier said than done, but this is hardly the end of your academic career. It’s probably not the last rejection you’ll get, either, and that’s okay—it happens to the best of writers as well. Therefore, it’s vital to learn to accept the inevitability of rejections and take them in stride. It’s important to see a rejection as a learning experience and an opportunity to improve your paper before resubmitting it for publication rather than let it define the value of your research. This is no easy task as it requires both deep reflection and serious revision, but it’s critical if you want to achieve success as an academic writer.
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If you’ve received a rejection letter from an academic journal, here’s what you can do to make the best of the situation.
Don’t react immediately
The moment when you realize your paper has been rejected can be immensely difficult. Blood rushes to your head as you wonder what you did wrong, what you could have done differently, and what this means for your future. Even if your first instinct is to scream and break things, try to control that urge, and definitely forget about sending angry emails or messages to the journal editors—you’ll regret it later. Don’t act on any of these impulses: This emotional state is temporary, but the consequences of ill-advised actions might not be.
The best thing to do at this stage is to step away from your inbox and engage in something else. Vent to your friends and family, eat a whole tub of ice cream, or sweat your frustrations out at the gym—just do whatever makes you feel good and puts you in a healthier headspace. Try not to dwell on the rejection or obsess over it because there isn’t anything you can do to reverse it.
Re-read the rejection letter
It’s easy to focus only on the negative bits in your rejection letter when you first read it, so once you’ve calmed down, go back and read it again. You will likely find that it includes insightful feedback and answers to questions you may have about the reasons for your paper getting rejected. Although that doesn’t make the snub any easier to swallow, it does help to know exactly why your submission didn’t succeed. Not only will this give you a sense of clarity and closure, but it will also help you craft better papers and avoid rejection in the future.
For instance, you may learn that the rejection was based solely on a technicality, perhaps not following strictly the submission guidelines on word limit or formatting, which are issues that can be easily fixed. If that’s the case, you don’t have to suffer because the rejection had nothing to do with the quality of your research and writing. Even if it was due to deeper issues with your paper, it’s important to separate that from your sense of self-worth and make an honest evaluation of your work.
Fix the issues listed in the rejection letter
A rejection doesn’t mean your paper will never be published—consider this setback a chance to make it even better. So, your next step should be to focus on fixing the issues outlined in the editorial letter.
If the rejection is based on failure to follow submission guidelines, all you have to do is make the necessary adjustments and resubmit. Academics whose first language isn’t English sometimes find their papers turned down because of grammatical errors or unclear sentences—usually, the fix is as simple as hiring a skilled editor. Pay close attention to any specific directions, and read other articles published in the same journal to familiarize yourself with their style and language and make sure that your paper fits in before resubmitting.
Resubmit your paper
Once you’ve implemented the suggestions of the editorial team and are happy with the revised version of your paper, you can resubmit it for publication in the same journal. As always, you should first check its submission and resubmission guidelines to make sure you’re complying with all requirements to avoid a second rejection. It may be tedious to pore over the journal’s submission guidelines and ascertain that your paper follows every single one of them, but this extra effort may go a long way in sparing you the heartbreak of another snub.
Remember that rejection doesn’t equal failure unless you choose to see it that way. It’s important to treat it as an opportunity to learn, improve your work, and perfect your writing as you move forward. All academics make mistakes and suffer rejections, so it’s not a reflection on your competence as a scholar—it’s simply part of the game. Focus on the bigger picture, and make any necessary changes to ensure your future success.
Also, don’t forget that peer reviews in particular are inherently subjective, so don’t take any criticism too personally. That’s not to say you should immediately dismiss constructive criticism you don’t want to hear—it’s just to say that you shouldn’t let it affect your sense of self-worth.
A sloppy or unorganized paper is much more likely to be rejected because no one wants to read something full of typos and grammatical errors or lacking a clear narrative thread. Even if the research methodology and conclusions are spot on, a poorly written paper will greatly affect your credibility and fail to give your work the attention it deserves. You want your research and findings to be the focus of your paper, which is why we highly recommend having your manuscript professionally edited and proofread. To learn more, check out our combined proofreading and editing service and let our experts help you resubmit your paper with absolute confidence.