Richard Primack, editor-in-chief of the journal Biological Conservation and professor at Boston University, came to the Duke Marine Lab to give a presentation on some of his research -- which used famous poet Henry David Thoreau's journal to track changing flowering dates and thereby track global warming. I rather enjoyed his talk.
Primack also discussed his position as editor-in-chief of Biological Conservation, and shared the following common reasons for why papers get rejected, which I'll share.
- They're on the wrong topic. Make sure your paper is relevant to the journal you're submitting it to!
- They're poorly written and poorly presented. This is particularly a problem for scientists from non-English countries; Primack encourages such scientists to collaborate with English speakers early on in the research process -- not only after it has been completed -- if they wish to publish in an English journal.
- They do not provide novel information; they document phenomenon already well-studied and well-understood. For example, the paper merely confirms provides "yet another" case study of something that has already been described.
- The science is not thorough enough. For example, if somebody conducted a study for just a few days in their backyard or collected too few data, the paper would be rejected for not being substantial enough.
In response to a student's question, Primack mentioned that his journal doesn't vet credentials (such as having a PhD), so if your science is noteworthy, it could get published no matter your background!
Primack RB, Miller-Rushing AJ. (2012). Uncovering, collecting and analyzing records to investigate the ecological impacts of climate change: A template from Thoreau's Concord. BioScience 62: 170-181.