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Types of editorial decisions after peer review (+ how to react)

After submitting their manuscripts to academic journals, authors receive one of several editorial decisions: ‘desk reject’, ‘revise and resubmit’, ‘major revisions’, ‘minor revisions’, or ‘paper accepted.’ Learn what these editorial decisions precisely mean, and how to react.


The meaning of a ‘desk-rejected’ paper

Peer review can be lengthy, and good peer reviewers are hard to find. Therefore, most journal editors quickly assess a paper’s quality before initiating the peer review process.

When a paper is ‘desk-rejected’, journal editors do not consider it good enough to go through external peer review.

Instead, they immediately reject the paper and tell the author/s that the journal is not interested in taking the manuscript assessment process any further.

One of the most common reasons for a ‘desk rejection’ is the low quality of a manuscript. Think, for instance, of a weak argumentation, incomprehensible language, or lacking originality.

Another common reason for a ‘desk rejection’ is a bad fit between the submitted manuscript and the aims and scope of the journal. For instance, a journal that exclusively publishes qualitative research will ‘desk reject’ a quantitative paper.

What to do if your paper is desk-rejected

A ‘desk-rejected’ paper is not the end of the world. It does not mean that the paper is doomed to fail.

If you receive a ‘desk reject’ decision, you often receive a brief explanation from the editors on the reasons why. Take this feedback seriously.

For example, the editors could point out a complete disconnect between your literature review and empirical analysis. It would make sense to fix this before resubmitting the paper elsewhere, as other journals will likely point out the same flaw in the manuscript.

If a mismatch between your manuscript’s topic and the journal is the reason for the ‘desk reject’ decision, reflect critically on how you selected the journal. Go through the process again and carefully select the next journal to which you will submit your manuscript.

I have a whole post on how to deal with a desk-rejected paper, which explains the reasons for desk rejections, as well as concrete steps to improve your work, in more detail.

In short:

  1. If you received feedback, critically reflect on it. If necessary, make changes to the paper.
  2. Select a new journal to submit your manuscript.

You may also like: The different stages in the manuscript publication process

The meaning of ‘revise and resubmit’

Many authors are extremely disappointed when they receive a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision for their manuscript. However, a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision is not all negative.

‘Revise and resubmit’ means that the journal rejects the paper in its current form. However, the journal editors see potential in the paper and encourage a resubmission.

With a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision, journal editors encourage the authors to rework the manuscript considerably, and then submit it to the journal for a second time.

‘Revise and resubmit’ is a decision that usually follows the assessment of external peer reviewers. Thus, authors tend to receive extensive feedback on their papers, which they can use to rework and improve them.

What to do if you receive the decision ‘revise and resubmit’ decision on your manuscript

The first thing you should do when you receive a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision is to read the reviewers’ comments.

Are you able to address the points of criticism, and implement the reviewers’ suggestions?

While it is generally possible to disagree with reviewers’ comments, it is not advised to disagree too much with them following a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision. Thus, reflect carefully on whether you can implement a majority of the suggestions. If not, it may be better to select a new journal after all.

However, a ‘revise and resubmit’ decision means that you have one foot in the journal’s door. Therefore, it is usually smart to rework your manuscript by responding to reviewers’ comments and then to resubmit it.

In short:

  1. Read the feedback and suggestions for improvement, and decide whether it makes sense to rework your paper based on reviewers’ comments (which is usually the sensible thing to do).
  2. Revise your manuscript by systematically responding to reviewers’ comments.
  3. Create an overview of all changes made, and resubmit your paper.

The meaning of ‘major revisions’

Many authors are disappointed when they receive ‘major revisions’, while in reality, it is a reason to celebrate. Rarely, papers are nowadays accepted with minor or no revisions right away.

When a paper is accepted with ‘major revisions’, it means that the journal is interested in publishing it once some structural issues are addressed and rectified.

Structural issues can be, for instance, reducing the paper’s focus, reworking the theoretical framework, or restructuring the empirical analysis.

Thus, addressing these structural issues can take several weeks and is usually not something that can be done in a few hours.

After submitting the reworked paper following a ‘major revisions’ decision, the manuscript will undergo a new round of peer reviews.

What to do if you receive the decision ‘major revisions’ on your manuscript

When you receive ‘major revisions’, you should first recognise your accomplishment and be proud of yourself. Then, you should develop a battle plan to tackle all reviewers’ comments so that you can submit your revisions as soon as possible.

The best way to respond to reviewers’ comments is by creating a large table with an overview of all points of feedback, your responses, and all the changes you did in the paper to address the feedback. Again, remember that you can disagree with some of these comments if you do it in the right way.

Editors want to see what you changed, how you changed it and why. Therefore, make sure to submit one version of your manuscript with track changes, and one clean version of the reworked paper.

In short:

  1. Revise your paper by responding to reviewers’ comments.
  2. Submit your revised paper to the journal.

The meaning of ‘minor revisions’

Receiving ‘minor revisions’ for a manuscript means that it is very close to being published in the selected journal.

A paper that receives ‘minor revisions’ has to undergo some minor edits and alterations before it will be published.

These edits or alterations differ from ‘major revisions’ in that they are usually not structural and can be implemented in a few hours of work.

Examples of minor revisions are changes to figures or tables, the addition of some references to the literature review, or stating the paper’s overarching argument more eloquently.

Once you submit your revised paper to the journal, some journals initiate a new round of peer reviews. Others do not, and just let the editors check whether revisions were adequately implemented.

What to do if you receive ‘minor revisions’ for your manuscript

‘Minor revisions’ are certainly easier to deal with than ‘major revisions’. However, it is important to take the task seriously and to be diligent.

Thus, it is advised to follow the same procedure as with ‘major revisions’ or even ‘revise and resubmit’ decisions: systematically respond to all reviewers’ comments and keep track of all changes in a table.

In short:

  1. Revise your paper by responding to reviewers’ comments.
  2. Submit your revised paper to the journal.

The meaning of ‘accepted for publication’

A paper ‘accepted for publication’ is a huge reason to celebrate, as it will be published!

A paper ‘accepted for publication’, however, does not mean that authors are completely done with their work. The accepted paper now moves into one of the final stages in the paper publication process.

However, the last steps are usually quick and enjoyable in anticipation of the published paper. For example, authors have to add some missing references, sign the publishing agreement and read the final proofs before the paper is published.

What to do if your paper is ‘accepted’ for publication

Many journals have editorial assistants who go through manuscripts before they are published. They double-check whether all references are correctly indicated, the layout is correct, and so forth.

If your paper has been accepted, make sure to look out for emails from editorial assistants or the journal editors (also in your spam folder).

If you receive emails with some minor requests, such as clarifying a reference, make sure to reply within a reasonable amount of time. The quicker you reply, the sooner the paper will be published.

In short:

  1. Incorporate the last edits and/or requests of the journal.
  2. Sign the publishing agreement.
  3. Go through the proofs, the final check before the paper is being published.
  4. Celebrate!

Master Academia

Hello, I'm Master Academia, a tenured professor dedicated to guiding individuals through their academic journey. With experience and insights from studying and working across different academic systems, I currently work full-time at a university in Western Europe. Recognizing the impact of unspoken rules in academia, I founded Master Academia to make academic knowledge more accessible to all.

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