Reading Rejection Letters

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I was surprised to receive a message from a member of TQ's editorial board the other day, expressing disappointment that his desire to get published in TQ has once again been defeated. What was surprising was that our decision letter didn't exactly say that he didn't have an opportunity to revise and resubmit. He had inferred that he has to abandon efforts to try to publish the article in TQ.


Authors do take rejection hard. However, there are different kinds of rejection letters. We have to read the letters with more care and detachment if we are not to spoil our own publishing opportunities. This doesn't mean that misinterpreting rejection letters is to be blamed completely on the authors. Editors do word these letters in convoluted ways, in an effort to mitigate the bad news, that it becomes difficult to decipher their actual opinion on the publishability of the article.


I have myself gone through this tragic experience. I had a submitted an article to College English when I was a graduate student. Though both reviewers were enthusiastic, the editor started the letter by saying: "Congratulations on coming so close to getting published in such an early stage of your academic career." I inferred that to mean that he wasn't interested in seeing the article again and/or that I didn't have a chance of getting that article published in that journal. It was months later, when I showed the letter to my dissertation advisor, Lester Faigley, that I learnt that it was actually a revise and resubmit letter. I hadn't paid enough attention to the closing statements in the letter where (apparently) the editor had extended the possibility of seeing a revised version with the suggested changes of the referees.


There are many kinds of rejection letters. TQ has at least six rejection letters. The following are the in-house code words we use for those letters (these terms don't appear in the letter itself): "Reject Not Relevant" for articles that don't fall into the subjects covered by the journal (say, an article on teaching reading in French); "Reject Regional Relevance" for articles that are of more relevance to the local teaching context and don't offer connections or implications for other contexts; "Reject Refer to Another Journal" are genres that fit another journal in the field much better (say, an essay that reflects on an interesting teaching technique that is suitable for a practitioner-focused magazine). These letters are usually sent out before the article go through the review process.


The other three letters come after the review process. "Reject No Hope" is for articles that the referees feel don't have a chance of getting published even after revision (perhaps because the methodology is so flawed that revision won't help); "Reject No Encourage" is for articles whose chances of getting published are not great, but they are not beyond redemption. "Reject Encourage" is for articles we certainly like to see again as we consider them good candidates for publication after revision. There is a difference in the wording of each of these letters. "Reject No Hope" won't mention revision or resubmission. "Reject No Encourage" will say: "If you intend to revise, you have to [mention the types of revisions expected and how the revised mss should be submitted]." "Reject Encourage" will clearly say, "I would advise you to revise the manuscript and resubmit [by making the stated changes]."


It appears that the author mentioned in the opening got a "Reject no Encourage" letter. However, if he was motivated to revise, there was nothing to prevent him from doing so. The decision letter did keep open that possibility, although it didn't explicitly request him to do so.


As they say, it is good to sleep over a rejection letter. Reading it when we are more calm and collected will help us see the good points in the referee comments and detect the doors the editor has left open for resubmission.


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This page contains a single entry by SURESH CANAGARAJAH published on February 24, 2009 5:14 PM.

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