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The Most Common Reasons Why Q1 and Q2 Journals Will Reject Your PhD Manuscript

If you are pursuing a career in science, or completing a PhD that requires published journals, then publishing papers becomes a crucial step in sharing your results and establishing yourself in the scientific community. However, getting your paper accepted by a reputable journal is no small endeavour.

Studies suggest that the majority of published papers may have been initially rejected! Getting published can be especially challenging if are aiming at a Q1 or a Q2 journal. Those are journals occupying the top (Q1) or second (Q2) quartile of a journal impact index – and their requirements for accepting manuscripts are quite strict.

It is therefore vital to understand why your PhD research paper can be rejected by a journal. This article will help you by reviewing the most common reasons for a journal to reject your manuscript. 

glasses on notebook of edited phd manuscript

In general, the major reasons for a PhD manuscript being rejected can be grouped into two categories: editorial reasons, and technical reasons.

Editorial reasons are issues related to journal-specific guidelines, formatting, ethics, and overall coherence of your paper. Technical reasons mainly stem from the quality of your methodology – in particular, this includes sampling and the use of statistical techniques. Let’s discuss editorial reasons for a rejected manuscript first.

Editorial reasons for your PhD Manuscript rejection

Poor alignment with the journal’s scope

One of the most common reasons for getting your research paper rejected by a journal is that the manuscript doesn’t fall within the journal’s scope. Every journal has a certain audience. Your paper should be of interest to this audience for the publisher to consider accepting your paper. You can familiarise yourself with the journal’s scope by reading about the journal, its aims, and the type of articles that the journal is currently looking for. 

Your PhD manuscript must align with the journal’s scope so that the paper isn’t rejected at an early screening stage. Be sure to do ample research about your field and where similar papers are typically published! Matching the impact and quality of your research to the journal’s scope will increase the chance of acceptance of your manuscript.

Insufficient impact

It is possible that the reviewers will not find your paper to be making a sufficient advance for the journal. This can happen if the research topic you have chosen isn’t of great enough significance for the journal considering its scope and aims. For example, if your manuscript is a part of a series of articles, then the journal may find the findings from your paper incremental and of insufficient impact. Another potential issue is that your study is too ambitious. In this case, a journal may find your manuscript to lack focus or to be difficult to interpret. 

If someone has already presented findings similar to your results, editors may consider your manuscript to lack originality. One way to increase your manuscript’s chance of acceptance here is to clearly explain to the editors why your paper is important and relevant to the journal. Moreover, make sure to show the editors that you are aware of ongoing research in your field by having a state-of-the-art overview covering relevant developments.

Violating research ethics

Ignoring research ethics is another reason why your manuscript could be rejected by a journal. You are required to have all necessary ethics and regulatory permissions. Make sure you have considered the rights of all individuals involved in your study. For instance, participants may have the right to decide what should happen to any data that has been gathered as a part of the study. This could include personal data, images, and what the participants have said during interviews. You should be particularly careful with identifying details such as biometrical characteristics, names, and dates of birth. 

If you want your manuscript to be accepted by a Q1 or a Q2 journal, you should be ready to provide the required permission related to informed consent. If you employ a case study design, you should make sure that participants have consented not only to participate in a study but also to have their data published in a journal. Consult with your institution’s review board on what kind of permissions may be needed for your paper to get accepted by a reputable journal. 

Ignoring structure and formatting requirements

Another common reason for your PhD manuscript being rejected by a journal is failing to follow the journal’s requirements on structure and formatting. You can usually find detailed submission requirements and guidelines on the journal’s homepage. This may include guidelines on the overall section structure, abstract, title, list of authors, references, figures, tables, and submission format, among others. Make sure to use the journal’s template if it is provided on the journal’s website. 

Some journals may have more specific requirements for certain aspects of your manuscript. One example is accessibility, with possible requirements including descriptive captions for figures, the use of patterns instead of or in addition to colours, and a minimum contrast ratio for figure lettering. 

If you are submitting your manuscript to a journal that shares a publisher with other journals, make sure that you use the structure and formatting guidelines that are specific to the individual journal of your choice. The requirements can differ across journals even if they belong to the same publisher. 

Lack of up-to-date references 

Among the reasons for your manuscript to get rejected from a Q1 or a Q2 journal is the lack of adequate referencing. If too many of your references are old, the journal may get the impression that you have not done sufficient research on your topic. Failing to keep up to date with recent developments in the field may lead to a poorly formulated research question.

Journals are more likely to accept manuscripts that show awareness of existing unsolved problems. A related problem may involve having too many self-citations. Overall, you should make sure that your manuscript does not give an impression of a poorly researched study lacking relevance. One way you can address this is by looking at recent relevant literature reviews and surveys published in the journal.

Poor language quality 

If your manuscript exhibits poor language quality, it will likely be rejected by a Q1 or a Q2 journal. You must express your thoughts and reasoning in a clearly understood manner. You should aim to present your results logically and efficiently. Using fluent and polished scientific English will be more likely to give the journal a favourable impression of your paper. Scientific writing may require specialised writing skills that might not have been well-emphasised in research training. To make sure that your manuscript uses well-written English, it may be valuable to consider employing professional language PhD editing and proofreading services.

Poor presentation of results 

Another common reason for having your PhD manuscript rejected is difficult-to-follow logic or poorly presented data. You should aim to make your arguments and data analysis well-structured and logical and to link them to the conclusions of your study. If the editors find your conclusions to be poorly justified by the rest of the manuscript, your paper will likely be rejected. Likewise, ignoring relevant literature may also lead to the journal turning down your submission.  

You can increase your manuscript’s chance of acceptance by checking that you provide answers to all formulated research questions. Make sure to explain and discuss your findings in a wider context. Another way to improve the presentation is to make the paper more concise by utilising tables, figures, and supplementary materials.

Violation of publication ethics

One of the major reasons for a Q1 or a Q2 journal to reject your manuscript is a violation of ethical standards in academic publication. You should always avoid plagiarism and fabrication – if the editors suspect fraud, they will almost surely reject your submission. Typically, simultaneous submission to multiple journals is not allowed.

If your manuscript is currently under review in one journal, you should wait until you get a response to submit the paper to another journal. If you disagree with the reviewers’ response, it is best to act respectfully and not turn down their suggestions. Ignoring feedback will likely result in rejection. Make sure you obtain permission to use figures that have been published elsewhere.

With the recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as Large Language Models (LLMs), it is important to understand their place in academic work. At the moment, you should expect that Q1 and Q2 journals would not view LLMs as satisfying their authorship criteria. If you do decide to use LLMs, you should properly document this in your methodology. Journals also expect you to disclose any interests that are directly or indirectly related to your manuscript. This includes employment, financial, and non-financial interests that may have influenced the submitted work. 

student getting PhD research help in library for PhD manuscript

Technical reasons why your PhD manuscript was rejected

Technical reasons for rejection are related to your methodology. How well you plan your experiments and apply statistical methods to analyse data will decide whether your manuscript is suitable for publishing in Q1 and Q2 journals. Technical problems with statistical analyses can be subtle. As a general rule, if you have doubts about the validity of your analyses, you should seek advice from your colleagues or professional PhD writing help.

Incomplete data 

One technical reason for journals to reject your manuscript is incomplete data. Most often this takes the form of a too-small of sample size. It is possible that the design of your experiment does not produce sufficient statistical power to yield useful results. In this case, you should either adjust your methodology or prepare for the likely rejection of your submission from top journals. Another problem related to incomplete data is the lack of, or poor, controls. Failing to control for relevant confounding variables may lead to a spurious relationship. This may greatly reduce the internal validity of your results, and therefore increase the chance of rejection of your submission.

Poor analysis 

Another potential reason for your manuscript being rejected from a Q1 or a Q2 journal is the poor quality of statistical analyses. Using inappropriate statistical tests, or failing to mention statistics altogether, greatly reduces the chance of acceptance. Other notable flaws include poor internal validity, lack of clear comparison metrics and identification of control groups, and low conformity with recognised statistical methods. If you are unsure whether your application of statistical techniques is valid, you should consult with your peers or employ the services of professional statisticians like Original PhD.

Inappropriate methodology 

If the statistical techniques you are using are outdated, the editors may reject your submission. Newer methods can provide more statistical power and higher robustness, allowing for higher validity of the analysis. As such, you should always aim to employ a methodology that would make adequate use of state-of-the-art techniques from your field. 

You should also ensure that your methodology is properly aligned with your research questions. If your experimental design or statistical tools are not relevant to the aims of your study, your submission will likely be rejected. It can be helpful to extensively research relevant literature to understand what kind of analyses are typically used to tackle similar research questions. 

Weak research motive 

A weak research motive could also become grounds for your manuscript’s rejection from a Q1 or a Q2 journal. If your hypothesis is not formulated or is not scientifically valid, likely, your submission will not be accepted. Likewise, you should make sure that your data answers the research questions that you have posed, as otherwise, the editors will likely reject your paper. Demonstrating critical reflection on your methodology may improve your manuscript’s acceptance chance. 

How to improve the chances of Q1 and Q2 journals accepting your manuscript?

In this article, we reviewed the most common reasons for Q1 and Q2 journals to reject PhD manuscript submissions. How can you improve your chances? The main advice is to closely follow all guidelines that are listed on the journal’s webpage. If you are overwhelmed by the requirements or are unsure about whether you meet them (which is especially relevant for technical reasons and statistical analyses), you should consider consulting your colleagues or employing professional writing services.