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This is a photo of Cookie Monster holding a pie chart cookie. He is saying C is for cookie. And for Plan C, which can also be delicious.

Rejected Manuscripts: There’s a Third Option

In late March, an economics professor Tweeted about his academic dilemma:

His manuscript had just been rejected from a journal for the seventh time. Should he give up on the paper?

Last time I checked, the Tweet had 107 comments. Most encouraged the professor to keep going, often sharing stories of personal triumph after even more rejections. Some said it was time to throw in the towel. And then one commenter went rogue and advocated for Plan C:

This is a Tweet from @LoriPalenPhD, from March 23, 2022, at 11:42 PM. It is a reply to @toddrjones. It reads My suggestion would be to think carefully about your audience and purpose. Does this piece of work have to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, or can you self-publish and publicize and share something like a research brief?

Friends, there are several potential reasons to publish in a peer-reviewed journal:
  • Peer review, in theory, only allows high-quality science to make it through to publication. This gives peer-reviewed journal articles a sense of credibility.
  • Peer-reviewed articles are valued in academic hiring, tenure, and promotion processes.
  • The journal will host and promote your article.
However, there are also LOTS of potential downsides of trying to publish in a peer-reviewed journal:
  • Peer reviewers have a big say in whether your manuscript will be published. This can be a problem if one of them disagrees with you about how the study should have been done or whether it has value.
  • The timeline from first submission to (if you’re lucky) publication is usually looooong…months, if not more than a year. By the time your research is published, it’s old news.
  • In the case of print journals, there’s a limit to how many articles can be published each issue/year. This means that editors have to reject for reasons other than quality, like fit* with the journal’s topic.
  • Peer-reviewed journals typically target a very specific scientific/academic audience. If your intended audience is outside of science or academia, they may never see your work.
  • Many journal articles are behind paywalls. You either need to cough up the cash ($33.41 per article on average) or belong to a subscribing institution, like a university.** This can be a big barrier to reader access.

So, before you resubmit (or, in my opinion, even write) that manuscript, I recommend taking a few minutes to reflect on who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish. Sure, if you’re going up for tenure in a couple of years and your results haven’t already gone stale, Submission #8 might be the right choice. But, it’s also worth considering whether you can reach more people, and do more good, with a self-published research brief, infographic, or YouTube video.

Are you interested in reworking your manuscript into other types of communication products? Data Soapbox can help!

*And I’m talking fit at a really granular level. This isn’t about astronomers submitting their articles to sociology journals.

**Ginger suggested a great workaround for getting articles: your local public library! Note that you will still need to wait for a librarian to process the request.

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