Dear Don... a little divine rejection

May 19, 2006

Civility costs nothing. But try telling that to the editors of academic journals whose rejection letters appear to be getting ruder, more sarcastic and increasingly scathing, writes Jessica Shepherd.

A straw poll of bruised academics by The Times Higher has uncovered some the most offensive rejection slips sent by journals.

One lecturer expressed his outrage after receiving the following response - on Christmas Eve: "This text speaks in an overtly technical language as if convinced that any text can be made 'academic' by using difficult technical terms in a highly complex grammatical structure."

Another candid response went as follows: "What all this might have to do with philosophy, let alone Martin Heidegger, remains unclear."

Another rejection sent to an academic by a Chinese economics journal has now become academic folklore. It reads: "We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

One frustrated academic has even parodied the tone of rejection letters on her website. One reads: "Enclosed is our latest version, ie, re-re-re-revised version of our paper. Choke on it. We have again changed the damn thing from start to finish."

Keith Dowding, who edits the Journal of Theoretical Politics , said: "Due to the pressures to publish, and to publish in top journals, academics, and in particular young ones, may send articles that are below standard to the top journals, even though they might be published in lower ranked journals.

Sometimes this means in top-ranked journals, referees can be somewhat rude about substandard work."

One academic, whoJwished to remain anonymous, had this advice for rejection letter writers: "They should view their task as one of helping the writer to improve.JFrequently, the writerJof the academic paper receives an anonymous reader's report and some of those are excoriating.

"A responsible editor will endeavour to tone down adverse criticism and rephrase in ways that can help the younger colleague to do better next time round."

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