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Rewriting Rejected Paper - Dealing with Crisis of Confidence

(14 Posts)
squirrelsarescary Wed 15-Feb-17 17:29:01

Hello everybody. Apologies for using this forum as cut-price therapy, but I have just started re-writing a sole authored paper that was rejected last year and I am suffering from a paralysing crisis of confidence.

I can't get rid of the editor's imaginary voice in my ear, telling me that everything about it was crap. But almost the worst thing is that having re-read the paper I don't think it's quite as crap as all that, which is telling me I must be especially crap to not understand why he thought it was so crap. The editor did say that there were some interesting arguments but ... which!? Essentially, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. I don't think I really understand how to make a theoretical contribution or even what it is. I mean I have published before, in good journals, but feel like it's almost a bit hit and miss, if that makes sense.

I would love to know, does anyone else feel like this when rewriting a rejected paper? Do you all feel as though you know exactly what you are doing? How do you deal with the editor's voice in your head when you are writing? I'm in social sciences in case it's relevant.

MedSchoolRat Wed 15-Feb-17 19:58:20

Problem is not the paper or your actual ideas. Problem is the voice in your head (I think you know that). Editor couldn't even tell you what they liked. That's a bit useless.

It was only rejected once? My gut feeling is polish that baby up for 2 hours & fire it off to the next journal on your horizon.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 15-Feb-17 21:01:20

I am definitely guilty of sitting on rejected papers for too long, with the reviewers' voices echoing in my head. It does no good at all. You still have to rewrite it and get it out. MedSchoolRat's advice is completely correct, I shall endeavour to take it.

MarasmeAbsolu Wed 15-Feb-17 21:21:41

Is there constructive criticism in the feedback?
Some point you can act on?

I am also guilty on sitting on rejects for longer than I should - but my strategy now is to send it to a couple of trusted colleagues, with the question: what are the three "things" you advise me to address on this manu to make it acceptable for Journal X.

Begadsandbyjingo Mon 27-Feb-17 22:04:25

I like to get a fresh pair of eyes on stuff that is rejected - see if a helpful colleague will have a look. It is all a bit of game to some extent. Chin up and don't get too disappointed- to make you feel better my most recent paper has been rejected by four journals to date😬

shovetheholly Fri 03-Mar-17 15:28:44

OK, I used to work as the editor of an academic journal so I have seen hundreds of papers go through the system. What I can tell you for certain is this: you are being an idiot to take the opinion of an editor this seriously - and the same goes for referee comments. These people are not some divine fount of knowledge. They get things wrong; in fact, some of them are absolute fucking jerks. Just look at the lists of the legendary papers that have been rejected first time round. The fact is that many, many academics aren't blazing some intellectual trail, but are firmly set in their ways and rather intellectually conservative.

In smaller fields, refereeing isn't really anonymous and some people deliberately play on this to get papers through. In many cases, I believe the standard to which papers by established people are held are way lower than those to which new authors are held. I've seen piles of soft-pedalled crap by tenured Americans get waved through with brown-nosing comments, while more interesting papers by younger authors are given a hard ride.

Not only that, but sometimes egos get involved - I've known an editor deliberately send an 'enemy's' paper to referees they knew would slaughter it. I've known people send the most outrageously personalised comments back. And I've seen people write 'I'm sorry - it is boring' as their sole comment.

So please - don't take this deeply flawed system as a judgement on the quality of your contribution. Have a critical eye to the comments - which ones are unfair? Which ones speak of a lack of understanding? And how can you explain those aspects of your paper more clearly to preclude such misunderstanding on the next submission? And, on the other side, which ones are helpful? By all means, take a long, hard look at your paper and figure out how you can tear it apart and put it back together again in a more persuasive way, but do this to be the best you can be, and not because you feel you're having to defend your very existence in the field you're in.


Foureyesarebetterthantwo Fri 03-Mar-17 19:57:24

That's really helpful advice Shovetheholly thank you!

squirrelsarescary Mon 06-Mar-17 10:13:15

Yes! Thanks so much shovetheholly, it is reassuring and interesting to hear that.

The 'this paper is boring' is an interesting one. A leading professor in my field who I respect enormously (outstanding scholar, nice person) has said that she thinks that the papers typically being published have never been so boring. People are obsessed with making a theoretical contribution (no matter how arcane/seemingly minor/niche) but the content itself often ends up quite dull as a result. This professor says that her papers are nowadays regularly turned down (often with quite aggressive and personal comments) because reviewers say that the theoretical contribution is not sufficiently strong. I genuinely don't think this is sour grapes on her part, or that she is not as good as she was, more that the parameters have changed and the reviewing process is perhaps increasingly flawed.

Having said all that ... other people are getting published regularly! And I am not. So I must be doing something 'wrong' and I do need to work out what it is. It could be mainly a productivity / volume issue - I need to produce more, to allow for the inevitable rejects. That's my goal for this year.

Thanks again for responding, it helps a lot.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Mon 06-Mar-17 14:25:06

The point about papers needing more 'theory' is an interesting one. I find this problematic as often the type of funders I have, and the journals they expect things to go in, are really not theoretically driven, they prefer empirical results. This leaves some papers more or less atheoretical though! I think publishing for 'impact' in your field is difficult if you are in a very applied area. I also have other audiences who aren't interested in theory. The REF panel is, though!

shovetheholly Mon 06-Mar-17 16:11:21

I think there's maybe a difference between what we're talking about when we speak of 'theory'?? A lot of social science 'theory' isn't very 'philosophical', IYSWIM. I think that's leading to a kind of weak, watered-down sort of something-that-is-often-called-'theory' that hasn't really examined its deeper epistemological/ontological/ethical/political assumptions. When I'm reading social science stuff, I prefer papers that are either more empirically detailed and colourful, or that are more rigorously theoretical. Don't like this middle ground.

squirrelsarescary Tue 07-Mar-17 12:30:37

I think what we might be seeing in my discipline is a squeezing out of empirical papers that are colourful (though they may be detailed), towards a situation where empirical stuff that could be really interesting is made substantially less so by the need to make this narrow theoretical contribution. It often ends up very dry. Also top journals - which are predominantly American in my field - increasingly expect qualitative data to be presented as though it is quantitative, which is generated by influential scholars who believe that positivism is the only legitimate way to do (social) science. I am not sure whether this is widespread.

TakesThis Fri 10-Mar-17 10:48:28

OP, I sit on papers for years

I have no confidence at all. I currently have three papers backed up that have been rejected and I've subsequently done nothing with.

I know all of the flaws of the publishing process, the fact the everyone gets rejected, the fact I'm doing okay but I can't shake the feeling that it's only me. I feel like I'm doing crap, everyone else is getting published but I'm not, I'm going to lose my job, I'm going to be found out as a fraud.

I have no answers because I'm guilty but it's so helpful to read people's advice on here. My aim for this year (after teaching has finished in a week) is to get four papers out and keep sending them on until they're published somewhere in some shape or form.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Fri 10-Mar-17 17:24:59

Takesthis I am guilty of this at times as well. I had some excellent advice which I have failed to follow from a senior colleague of mine who was telling me about a very successful professor who spends one day on any rejection then sends it out again, whatever the scale of the comments. She is extensively published. I don't know if this would work for me, but I kind of see the rationale, you simply can't keep rewriting everything according to perhaps fickle at times reviewers and another set may view it more favourably, once any major flaws or omissions have been fixed.

I wish I could take this advice instead of going into a spiral of self-doubt, I am getting better at turning them around though.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Fri 10-Mar-17 17:26:39

I should have learned my lesson, too, as once I sat on a paper so long, there was a change in legislation that made the data outdated so it couldn't be published, and I worked on it so much that even now, I still half think I've published it and attempt to reference it in my current work as it had some brilliant ideas in it.

Now that is stupid!

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