Tips for handling multiply-(desk)-rejected papers?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

I have written two papers that get regularly desk rejected. I’ve just created an excel spreadsheet to track that. These are papers that are the result of the realisation of a research project I’ve got some external funding. Several people who are more experienced and more accomplished than I am and who read the papers tell me that they are good: top-15 on Leiter’s list (I’ve managed to publish something of that stature in the past). These two papers were collectively rejected 12 times in the past 6 months and were rarely sent to external reviewers… but when they were sent for external review, the reports were ok (some mild acceptance, some R&R recommendations).

It seems that when one actually reads the papers, then the impressions are mostly positive; the problem is that the editors keep throwing my works in the bin without sending them for an external review… I’m very frustrated because I’m running out of journals that my papers are suitable for… And I start to wonder if my institutional affiliation and nationality are not playing at least some role in this chain of rejections (I come from a country that is not philosophically cool, like UK or Germany, and my university is internationally relatively unknown)…

Do you have any ideas what the problem is? And what might be a solution?

These are great questions, and I’m curious to hear what readers think. Has this sort of thing happened to you? If so, do you have any tips for the OP?

This happened to me early in my career with a paper that was rejected at something like 14 journals. I often got very positive feedback on it, both when presenting it and from well-published senior mentors. But, for years, it would either get desk-rejected, rejected with fairly decent reviewer comments, or receive R&R recommendations (several of which, alas, ended up in rejections). Ultimately, after about 6 years of trying (and dozens of different drafts), I ended up publishing it–albeit in a lower-ranked journal than I would have liked (I was on the job market). Fortunately, the good news is that it has ended up being one of my most-cited papers–and I know that I’m not alone in having experiences like this. My dissertation supervisor once told me that one of his best papers was rejected by a lot of journals (nine, if I remember correctly), and Jason Stanley once reported similar experiences.

So, I think this is just something that happens. Even good papers can get rejected (and desk rejected) quite a few times. Do I have any idea what the problem is? In my own case, I suspect that earlier versions of my paper “tried to do too much.” As noted above, I ended up writing dozens of drafts of my paper, and the one that was eventually published was significantly narrower in scope than earlier versions (in essence, I “broke it up into multiple papers”). I actually think it ended up being a better paper for it, as I ended up sorting out the issues that I didn’t end up including in it differently than I did in the paper. Consequently, although all of the rejections were frustrating, I now think it was sort of a proverbial blessing in disguise. 

Anyway, what are my recommendations? It’s hard to say without actually seeing the paper, but in brief I would say that if the feedback the OP has been getting on the paper is good, they should just keep submitting, consider whether there are any revisions (such as tightening the paper’s scope) that might help, and perhaps be willing to shoot for lower-ranked journals (which may be a bit risky, but seems to be more beneficial than many people think). The one thing that I wouldn’t advise is to give up. I only give up on papers when it is clear to me that there’s a serious problem with the argument that either makes the paper unpublishable or something that I wouldn’t want to publish.

But these are just my thoughts and experiences. What are yours?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More



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