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Reject decisions: Sample peer review comments and examples

A ‘reject’ verdict means that a manuscript is not considered suitable to be published in an academic journal. Out of all editorial decisions, a ‘reject decision’ on a manuscript is the harshest. Therefore, it is important to reject a manuscript kindly. Sample comments and two examples help peer reviewers to formulate their verdict on a manuscript.


How to reject a manuscript kindly

There are good reasons to reject a manuscript, and rejections are completely normal in academia. However, many manuscript authors are hurt by a ‘reject’ decision. This is especially true for early career researchers.

Therefore, if you are peer-reviewing an article for an academic journal and your verdict is ‘reject’, make sure to craft your feedback carefully.

Rejecting a manuscript should be done politely and constructively: Criticize the text and not the authors or the authors’ intentions, point out something positive, and provide suggestions for improvement.

This does not mean that you should sugarcoat the shortcomings of a manuscript. However, the feedback should be seen as a valuable learning opportunity for the authors. The aim should not be to crush their confidence.

In practice, this means the following:

  1. Even if you think that the manuscript should be rejected, do not just point out all its flaws. Instead, also include constructive suggestions for improvement.
  2. Even the most flawed manuscript does something right. Make sure to highlight something positive. This could be, for instance, an interesting research question, compelling data, or a captivating writing style.
  3. Provide feedback on the manuscript without attacking the authors. Avoid statements such as “The authors are incapable of presenting a compelling argument.” Instead, write: “The paper does not bring a compelling argument across.”
  4. Refrain from questioning the authors’ intentions. For example, don’t write “The authors did not even bother to conduct a thorough literature review.” Instead, use formulations such as “The paper is not addressing an important body of literature, namely..

You may also like: How to deal with a desk-rejected paper

Common reasons to reject a manuscript

Rejecting a manuscript as a peer reviewer means that you don’t believe the paper can make a valuable academic contribution. Even if the authors revise it extensively. (If you believe the manuscript has potential, consider a ‘revise and resubmit‘ or a ‘major revisions’ verdict.)

There are six common reasons to reject a manuscript:

  • A thematic mismatch. Sometimes, decent articles are submitted that simply do not fit the scope of a journal.
  • A poor theoretical framework and literature review. Manuscripts which do not engage at all with relevant theories and literature tend to be rejected.
  • Weak empirical data. Think of, for instance, qualitative research based exclusively on two interviews, or qualitative research based on answers from just ten survey respondents.
  • Structural discrepancies. The arguments and logic of some manuscripts are impossible to follow. For example, when there is a complete mismatch between the theoretical framework and the empirical analysis.
  • Extremely low standard of writing. Most manuscripts can be improved with proper language editing. A few, however, are written so incomprehensibly that a peer review process becomes impossible.
  • No research contribution. Journals want to publish articles which generate new insights and advance knowledge. Articles that say nothing new tend to be rejected.

Sample peer review comments to reject a manuscript

“I do not believe that this journal is a good fit for this paper.”

“While the paper addresses an interesting issue, it is not publishable in its current form.”

“In its current state, I do not recommend accepting this paper.”

“Unfortunately, the literature review is inadequate. It lacks..”

“The paper lacks a convincing theoretical framework, which is necessary to be considered for publication.”

“Unfortunately, the empirical data does not meet disciplinary standards.”

“While I applaud the authors’ efforts, the paper does not provide sufficient empirical evidence.”

“The empirical material is too underdeveloped to consider this paper for publication.”

“The paper has too many structural issues, which makes it hard to follow the argument.”

“There is a strong mismatch between the literature review and the empirical analysis.”

“The main contribution of this paper is unclear.”

“It is unclear what the paper contributes to the existing academic literature.”

“The originality of this paper needs to be worked out before it can be considered for publication.”

“Unfortunately, the language and sentence structures of this manuscript are at times incomprehensible. The paper needs rewriting and thorough language editing to allow for a proper peer review.”

Reviewer comments ‘reject’ example 1

The manuscript has the ambitious goal of providing an overview of all macroeconomic factors influencing consumer spending in the US. While I applaud the author’s efforts, I do not believe that the paper is publishable in its current form. There are three main reasons for my decision.

First, the literature review has too many gaps. The authors draw on recent literature on consumer behaviour and provide explanations from the field of microeconomics. However, in the introduction, the authors explicitly state that that they want to provide an overview of macroeconomic factors. Yet, the literature review does not feature any macroeconomic theories or insights. As such, the paper lacks a convincing theoretical framework which links both micro- and macro-economic aspects. I can recommend the article of Howard et al. (2014) in the Journal of Economic Theory for inspiration on how to link macro- and microeconomics.

Second, the empirical data does not fit the aim of the study. The analysis focuses on the development of household incomes over time, while any macroeconomic factors such as GDP, inflation or unemployment levels are left untouched. Furthermore, household income is used as a proxy for consumer spending. This connection is not well justified, and it has been heavily criticised by scholars in the past. I do think that the analysis of household incomes generates interesting insights, but not within the context of this paper. Therefore, I would encourage the authors to reflect on their unique contributions and alter their overarching arguments accordingly.

Lastly, the conclusions are not convincing and superficial. The main reasons for this are the flawed theoretical framework and internal discrepancies, as described above. I believe that the authors can think more strategically about what claims they can make based on their available data. This will allow them to turn their study into a valuable academic contribution. Unfortunately, in its current state, I cannot recommend accepting this paper.

Reviewer comments ‘reject’ example 2

This is a well-written manuscript which explores the emotional challenges of social workers in the county of Cambridgeshire in the East of England. The authors argue that social workers in the county experience high-stress levels and frequent burnout, which could be mitigated by structural interventions. The structural interventions include proactive therapy for social workers to better deal with difficult cases.

However, I do not believe that the Journal of Technology and Health is the right fit for this paper. The journal’s scope explicitly highlights its focus on the role of technology in health and well-being. The paper, however, hardly addresses the role of technology. Only once, on page 13, the influence of technology is mentioned in a side sentence. Therefore, I encourage the authors to look for a more suitable journal, for instance in the field of social work.

Furthermore, I have ethical reservations concerning the presentation of interview data: In its current form, the presentation of the empirical data does not meet disciplinary standards. In the methodology section, it is stated that interviewees were promised anonymity. Nonetheless, detailed information on personal characteristics, job descriptions and working locations of interviewees are provided. I believe that this level of detail breaches the interviewees’ confidentiality. Thus, I encourage the authors to critically reflect on this issue. With a few tweaks, such as removing information on the age, gender and working location of interviewees, anonymity can be upheld.

Overall, I believe that this is a good manuscript which – after some minor revisions – should be submitted to a more suitable journal.

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