Why Hire a Developmental Editor?

Writing high quality scientific papers is as much an art as it is a science. Despite the fact that most academics are experienced technical writers, rejection by scientific journals is commonplace.

An analysis of rejection rates by Frontiers demonstrates that the vast majority of journals reject 60–80% of all papers submitted. Furthermore, they found no correlation between rejection rate and the impact factor of the journal (r2 = 0.0023), indicating that submitting to lower impact journals does not necessarily increase acceptance rates. Rejection rates for the highest impact journals (e.g., Science and Nature) can be as high as 95%. Unfortunately, the top reasons for manuscript rejection [1–7] are poorly understood by most authors and technical writers, who are often too close to their own research to identify both fatal and non-fatal flaws in their manuscripts. 

Top 10 reasons that manuscripts are rejected:

  1. Lack of novelty or originality (or poor elucidation of significance).

  2. Incompleteness (i.e., the manuscript is missing essential elements).

  3. Poor presentation (i.e., poor writing and/or language issues, failure to adhere to journal guidelines, lack of focus, figures are not clear or are inadequate, poor presentation of methodology and/or results).

  4. Outside the aims and scope of the journal

  5. Design flaws (i.e., low sample size, improper study design, lack of control groups).

  6. Measurement errors.

  7. Errors in data analysis (i.e., improper statistical analyses).

  8. Inadequate Discussion (i.e., important work in the field has been ignored, the Discussion does not provide novel insights).

  9. Conclusions are not justified (i.e., the conclusions are not supported by the data; the arguments are poorly structured, illogical, or invalid; the conclusions ignore current literature).

  10. Ethical concerns (i.e., plagiarism, the paper is in consideration by another journal, lack of informed consent, bias).

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High rejection rates, coupled with the ubiquity and frequency of manuscript flaws, underscore the importance of skilled developmental editors in the publication process. Developmental editing is a substantive type of editing that goes beyond basic language editing to provide constructive and critical feedback on aspects such as overall focus, clarity, organization, the presentation of the main argument, logical flow, and potential shortcomings or inconsistencies. In short, a skilled developmental editor 1) works with the author to resolve the aforementioned ‘non-fatal’ reasons for rejection and 2) flags inherent (i.e., ‘fatal’) design flaws prior to submission or resubmission, ultimately paving the way to successful publication.


1. Thrower, P. Eight reasons I rejected your article. Elsevier Connect https://www.elsevier.com/connect/8-reasons-i-rejected-your-article (2012).

2. Eassom, H. 9 Common Reasons for Manuscript Rejection. https://www.wiley.com/network/researchers/submission-and-navigating-peer-review/9-common-reasons-for-manuscript-rejection (2021).

3. Menon, V., Varadharajan, N., Praharaj, S. K. & Ameen, S. Why do manuscripts get rejected? A content analysis of rejection reports from the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Indian J. Psychol. Med. 0253717620965845 (2020).

4. Dhammi, I. K. & Rehan-Ul-Haq. Rejection of Manuscripts: Problems and Solutions. Indian J. Orthop. 52, 97–99 (2018).

5. Krausman, P. R. The Necessity of Manuscript Rejection. J. Wildl. Manag. 84, 839–840 (2020).

6. Bordage, G. Reasons Reviewers Reject and Accept Manuscripts: The Strengths and Weaknesses in Medical Education Reports. Acad. Med. 76, 889–896 (2001).

7. Cassey, P. & Blackburn, T. M. Publication rejection among ecologists. Trends Ecol. Evol. 18, 375–376 (2003).