Rejection of a manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal is a demoralising experience for the authors. All of us want to choose a journal of high quality for publication of our work.  We tend to forget that the high rejection rate is due to the stringent acceptance criteria, which is responsible for the reputation of the journal. The key to the entire process of a manuscript getting accepted is a critical and objective scientific peer review. The reviewers are the pillars of the whole process along with the editorial board. Expert and effective reviewers are always in demand but may not always be available due to their pre-occupation, which is a constraint for the editorial board. Another challenge for the editorial board is to be able to take a decision when different reviewers have contradicting recommendations.
Systematic studies on the reasons for rejecting manuscripts by the journals are limited  but we all know that the number of manuscripts rejected tends to be higher than the numbers accepted in reputed journals.
I intend to share some common reasons resulting in rejection that I have experienced in the capacity of author, reviewer or member of editorial boards in the subject of microbiology. The common and important reasons are the poor study design or inadequate description of methods or inadequate presentation of results or lack of convincing data, for example non-inclusions of controls in anti-microbial resistance characterisation studies, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) results without controls or without sequencing data, no clinical information in studies on microbiological profiles of different infections, etc., The underlying reason, majority of the times, is that we do not design a study before conducting it. Manuscript writing starts from the data available and then trying to make it relevant, which may yield results with inadequate information for statistical analysis or drawing conclusions. Microbiology departments with limited facilities for technically demanding experiments and molecular studies can undertake planned well designed clinical-microbiological correlation studies, which are equally relevant and powerful.
Many times, the title of the study is not related to the methods and results, introduction and discussion are long with irrelevant details, conclusions do not match with results or literature review is out-dated. The lack of originality in the results, for example repeating the well-established information in literature is also one of the major reasons of rejection. Although the editorial board tries and accommodates them as correspondence in the interest of dissemination of Indian data, correspondence is appropriate when it comes as comments on a published article in the journal.
There are times that the repeated revisions fail to address satisfactorily to the reviewers comments. That is most unfortunate because after 3-4 cycles of to and fro communication with editorial office and multiple revisions finally results in rejection. This situation could occur when the junior scientists respond and the senior author is too busy for the inputs. The senior authors should spend more effort on careful response to the queries raised by the reviewers, appropriate incorporation in the revised manuscript, if they agree, and adequate scientific justification, if they do not agree, with the reviewer.
Not adhering to the format of journal, English language, mixing methods with results in the manuscript, improper abstract, etc., are mostly not a reason for rejection as the editorial board tries to help by providing suggestions for modifications.
Inadequate details and incomplete literature search in case reports, which are also the largest numbers of manuscripts submitted, increase rejection rates of the journal. The authors should preferably submit case series with details of patient management, adequate microbiological laboratory data and supporting figures and follow-up of patient for acceptance of such reports.
Reviews and guest editorial are "invited" and are determined by the experience and expertise of the author in a particular scientific field. Submitting a review article without critical comments generating from personal experience of the author, do not add to the value and therefore such submissions are likely to be rejected. Authors must submit a brief write up of the review article to the editorial board along with evidence of their published work on the topic of review.
When our work gets rejected from journals that are published outside India, we accept that without complaint. But when the same is rejected from an Indian journal, we feel we have been deprived of our right. There is a need for introspection among us to have high quality study design for good publications, address questions like - what is the key message and contribution of the study to the existing knowledge. This will increase the recognition of the Indian journals internationally.
In general, the intent of the editorial board is always to help in getting the work published after required modifications.
*The views expressed by the author are her own.
1. Jain NC. Trends in Biomedical communication. Indian J Med Microbiol 2013;31:331-33.
2. Byrne DW. Common reasons for rejecting manuscripts at medical journals: A survey of editors and peer reviewers. Sci Ed 2000;23:39-44.