Q: The journal editor says my research findings are not novel. What should I do?

Detailed Question -

I had submitted a paper to a journal, and the journal editor replied thus: “Your last sentence reads: ‘To the best of our knowledge, this is the first sighting of brown eye spot of coffee caused by C. coffeicola in China.’ However, I had previously pointed out that there is an existing record of Cercospora coffeicola in China obtained from the fungal databases website (https://nt.ars-grin.gov/). The main reference is xxxxx. C. coffeicola is recorded on several species of coffee. It is essential that you cite these records and evaluate them. You must show that your report shows something new, otherwise it will not be acceptable.” What should I do?

1 Answer to this question

Since the journal editor has pointed out that a published study already exists on the same subject, you evidently have to take that into account. Your findings cannot be considered novel as they have been previously reported. You definitely cannot make the claim that this is the first sighting of brown eye coffee spots; you will have to cite the study that the journal editor has mentioned. This actually reflects poorly on your literature review: it shows that you have not done an exhaustive search for existing published material related to your study. 

If the only novelty in your study lies in your claim that yours is the first sighting of brown eye spot of coffee, you have no option but to go back to the literature, find if a gap exists somewhere, conduct some more experiments, and tie in the results of those experiments with your current findings to present your data with a new, completely different approach. In this case, you will most probably have to rewrite the entire paper. Alternatively, you can position your paper as a replication study where you cite and discuss the original study and mention that you conducted the same study and came up with the same or similar findings. This would prove that the previous study is reproducible and validate its claims.

There is a possibility that your study has some other novel finding that has not been highlighted well enough. It could be a secondary finding, an angle that you have not thought of, or an aspect that seems insignificant because you have not presented it well. If that is the case, your paper might just need a change in focus and presentation. You could then make the necessary changes to your paper, rewrite the relevant parts highlighting this finding, and resubmit to the journal along with a point-by-point response to the editor’s comments. However, make sure that you cite the existing study that the editor has mentioned and analyze your findings in the light of this study.