Appealing against the journal's decision: A case study
*Editorial note: This post has been edited to give more clarity on the appeals process followed by journals
Case: An author’s paper was rejected by a journal after peer review. On receiving reviewer comments, the author was surprised to see that while two of the three reviewers seemed to be happy with the overall quality of the paper and had suggested minor revisions, Reviewer #3 had given extremely negative comments, stating that the paper was of very poor quality. According to this reviewer, the paper lacked novelty, needed more experiments and language editing, and was not publishable in its current form. The author revised the manuscript thoroughly, addressing every concern of the reviewers, including those of Reviewer #3 and also had it professionally edited.
He then re-submitted the paper to the same journal as a new submission. However, the paper was rejected again. This time too, two reviewers gave positive comments and recommended acceptance, but Reviewer #3 gave extremely negative comments and recommended rejection. Moreover, the comments were very similar to those made by Reviewer #3 during the first review. The author, who was keen on publishing his paper in the journal and had spent a lot of time and effort revising the paper, was very upset and approached Editage Insights for advice.
Action: On going through the reviewer comments, our experts felt that many of Reviewer #3’s comments, particularly for the second submission, were unreasonable. It seemed that he/she had not gone through the revised paper as some of the comments made were already addressed in the revised version. We felt that this would make a strong case for appealing against the journal’s decision.
However, on going through the journal’s appeals policies, it was clear that the appeals process was rigorous and would take time. We explained the pros and cons of appealing against the journal’s decision to the author who was resolved to go ahead with the appeal.
We guided the author on how to write a strong appeal letter along with a point-by-point rebuttal of the comments of Reviewer #3. The rebuttal letter provided supporting evidence to make it clear that the reviewer had not reviewed the revised manuscript thoroughly.
Within a few days, the editor replied stating that the paper would be discussed by the editorial board and sent out for a re-review, and this time, to a completely new set of reviewers. The re-review took time and the author had to follow up with the journal several times. However, after a few months, the author’s efforts paid off. The editor responded that the re-review had been positive and the paper would be accepted after a few minor revisions.
Summary: Most journals have a clear policy and process for appeals, and all appeals are dealt with under this process. If an author strongly feels that the decision about his or her manuscript has been incorrect or unacceptable, he or she has the right to appeal against this decision.
Usually, the process for appeals is more rigorous than that for a regular submission. An appeal is assigned to multiple editors who assess the manuscript, the peer review reports/comments, and the author’s rebuttal before providing their individual comments on it. The editors then discuss their views and arrive at a consensus about the paper. If the editors feel the need for a re-evaluation, they can send the paper for another round of review. Thus, the appeals process is usually rigorous and fair.
There is a general misconception among authors that appeals do not work; however, if the case is strong enough and the author is able to provide an objective rebuttal with supporting data or evidence for every point they are refuting, editors will definitely give it a fair chance.
However, this does not mean that every time an author gets a rejection, he or she should appeal against the editorial decision. This is a special benefit that journals provide, and should be used with utmost discretion. If an author genuinely feels that the evaluation has been unfair, he or she should first take the opinion of a supervisor, senior colleague, or some other expert to confirm that his or her judgment has been correct. Appeals should be made only if the case is very strong. Additionally, authors should maintain a polite and objective tone in their communication and refrain from using accusatory or emotional language.
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Have you ever appealed against a journal's decision? Did you eventually get an acceptance? Do share your experience in the comments section below. I'm sure other readers would love to hear about it.