How to avoid desk-rejection

Before papers are sent for refereeing, editors check newly-submitted papers for a range of features. Authors can check these things themselves, and increase the likelihood that their papers will proceed from the editor’s desk and into the refereeing process. This list of questions has emerged from dealing with the regular and frequent problems that submitted papers suffer from.  It will help you to avoid having the paper returned for amendments prior to refereeing or, worse, having it rejected outright. Can you answer “yes” to all of these questions? If so, the progress of your paper will be speedier and the likelihood of success increased.

  1. Does the paper develop theory or test theory, or alternatively, is it a critical review of past work that delineates a topic not previously outlined?
  2. Is there a clear exposition of the research methods?
  3. Are methodological issues dealt with adequately?
  4. Do the conclusions offer new insights that clearly follow from the work reported in the paper?
  5. Are there explicit citations to the underpinning body of theory that forms the basis for this work (e.g. journal articles in management, economics, sociology, law, etc.)?
  6. Is the title informative and brief?
  7. Does the abstract conform to the guidance for writing informative abstracts? (see
  8. Have you made sure that the first page includes the title, the abstract and the keywords?
  9. Is your covering letter useful to the editor in helping to explain what the paper is for, who the intended audience is, why it is being submitted to this journal and how it helps achieve the journal’s stated aims? (see
  10. Is the closing section of the paper entitled “conclusions”?
  11. Have you made sure that they conclusions do not merely summarize the paper again?
  12. Have you used the word “methodology” to refer to the science and rationale of your methods, and the word “method” to refer to what you actually did?
  13. Have you avoided writing about “this paper…”, “this study…”, “this research…” in the active voice, as if “it” had undertaken itself?
  14. Have you been concise in your use of language?
  15. Is the number of words less than 10,000 (excluding abstract, references, tables and figures)?
  16. Have you avoided revealing your identity through self-referencing previously published papers or specific research grants?
  17. Have you removed the acknowledgements and prepared them as a separate file? This will be uploaded as a “not for review” file.
  18. Have you put all the Tables and Figures at the end of the paper or uploaded them as separate files? (Either is acceptable, but please make sure there is no more than one per page.)
  19. Do the Figures conform to the guidance for clear graphics? (see In particular, have you removed all colour, grey shading and shadow effects from Figures and Tables; have you removed perimeter boxes from around each Figure; have you used consistent line thicknesses; have you replaced all blocked arrows with line arrows; and have you removed all computer screen dumps from Figures?
  20. Have you removed all pie charts and all computer screen dumps?
  21. Have you submitted files in an editable format, other than PDF?
  22. If you used Endnote or other bibliographical software, have you “removed fields” from the document?
  23. If you set up a new username and password in order to submit the paper, did you check that you were not already in the system with any of your other e-mail addresses, or older versions of recently changed e-mail addresses? Alternatively, did you submit with your existing username?
  24. Have you provided the full name, affiliation and accurate email address of all co-authors on a separate title page, in the sequence in which they will appear in the paper? Have you checked whether they are already in the system with alternative or outdated e-email addresses? It is important to avoid setting up multiple accounts for the same individual. (This title page will be uploaded and identified as a “Title page” file, which will prevent it from being sent to referees.)


About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
This entry was posted in Content, Guidance, Structure, Style, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s