American College of Clinical Pharmacy
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ACCP Report - July 2019

Questioning Editorial Decisions

Written by C. Lindsay DeVane, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCPP
Editor-in-Chief, Pharmacotherapy


Preparing and submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal usually requires a substantial commitment of time, effort, and resources. The outcome of this process can be satisfying or disappointing. Most authors’ rejections far outnumber their immediate acceptances. An unsolicited manuscript is rarely accepted without the need for revisions. When a rejection is the editorial decision, authors may question the fairness or objectivity of the editor or peer review process. One response to a rejection is to contact the editor and request further detail or to challenge the decision. There are circumstances that merit this action and times when it is appropriate.

When considering whether to correspond with the editorial office about a rejection, authors should first carefully re-read the peer review comments and the decision letter. Authors should attempt to understand the editor’s decision in order to develop an effective rebuttal. A common reason for rejection is based on poor study design, lack of appropriate methodology, or inappropriate analysis and communication of the results. If this is not the case, an author can begin to consider contacting the editorial office.

Submitting authors should recognize that in making editorial decisions, journal editors evaluate not only the soundness of a study’s research methodology but also the potential impact of the results on the relevant scientific field. A scientific study may have been reported using the appropriate methodology with carefully analyzed results and conclusions supported by the data but still be rejected. A rejection can result when the research is viewed as having minor significance and/or confirms what has already been published and established as current knowledge. When a journal has recently published similar research results or reviews in the same topic area, editors may be reluctant to publish results that duplicate prior knowledge, regardless of the reviewer’s recommendations. Competition for space is high, even in the current era of electronic publishing. When a manuscript submission is rejected as a minor contribution to the literature, this is not a time to protest but to submit the manuscript to another journal.

The time to challenge an editorial decision is when a biased or faulty review is suspected. Correspondence to the editor should provide any evidence for an accusation of referee bias. It is not helpful to guess at the identity of reviewers. If particular reviewers should be avoided by an editor, the time to express this concern would have been in the cover letter that accompanied the original submission. For a challenge to an editorial decision to have a desirable outcome, authors should state their case for bias factually. If a reviewer’s calculations were erroneous or critical data in the manuscript were overlooked, these omissions should be presented in detail as evidence of a faulty review.

When disagreeing with an editorial decision, authors should contact the editor as soon as possible. Editorial workloads are high. Challenges to editorial decisions are likely to receive secondary consideration compared to the attention given to new submissions, so any rebuttal should be prompt.

The author should recognize that editors rarely reverse a decision but that they will consider extenuating circumstances. If an author can challenge a decision with evidence indicating a reviewer had a bias against the author(s) or the decision was based on a faulty review, the author’s argument for ignoring a reviewer’s comments or recommendation may successfully reverse the editor’s decision to reject the manuscript. Pharmacotherapy’s editors are sensitive to these aspects of the editorial process and strive to provide authors with unbiased and fair editorial decisions.