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Making the First Cut: An Analysis of Academic Medicine Editors’ Reasons for Not Sending Manuscripts Out for External Peer Review

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Abstract

Purpose

Manuscripts submitted to Academic Medicine (AM) undergo an internal editor review to determine whether they will be sent for external peer review. Increasingly, manuscripts are rejected at this early stage. This study seeks to inform scholars about common reasons for internal editor review rejections, increase transparency of the process, and provide suggestions for improving submissions.

Method

A mixed-methods approach was used to retrospectively analyze editors’ free-text comments. Descriptive content analysis was performed of editors’ comments for 369 manuscripts submitted between December 2014 and December 2015, and rejected prior to external peer review from AM. Comments were analyzed, categorized, and counted for explicit reasons for rejection.

Results

Nine categories of rejection reasons were identified: ineffective study question and/or design (338; 92%); suboptimal data collection process (180; 49%); weak discussion and/or conclusions (139; 37%); unimportant or irrelevant topic to the journal’s mission (137; 37%); weak data analysis and/or presentation of results (120; 33%); text difficult to follow, to understand (89; 24%); inadequate or incomplete introduction (67; 18%); other publishing considerations (42; 11%); and issues with scientific conduct (20; 5%). Manuscripts had, on average, three or more reasons for rejection.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that clear identification of a research question that is addressed by a well-designed study methodology on a topic aligned with the mission of the journal would address many of the problems that lead to rejection through the internal review process. The findings also align with research on external peer review.

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