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Chris Buford

I agree that it can be hard to tell whether a paper has been rejected by an editor. Earlier this year I had a paper rejected by Philosophical Studies. The decision took two months and there were no comments. I emailed the editorial assistant asking whether it was a desk rejection. After some discussion I learned that it had been sent out. I asked about referee comments and was told that the original reviewer comments were 'misplaced'. I was in the end given a few comments. The reviewer was evidently asked to use 'especially strict standards'(another interesting topic) and used this to explain the lack of detailed comments. I don't have any complaints about the process and the assistant was helpful. The paper did get to a referee and the turnaround wasn't too long.


Hi Marcus,

Interestingly enough, just today I got a "desk rejection" after about 2.5 months. Also, I had to go search and see what paper I submitted, because they didn't even mention the name of the paper in the rejection notice! Now the email sure sounded like a typical desk rejection. But I am curious how we can know it is one? Isn't it possible that a reviewer read it and told the editor to reject with no comments? This is bad form of the reviewer, I think. But I have heard some reviewers defend this on the grounds that their only job is to evaluate, not to help the writer. This is just another reason I think we should have a major overhaul of the entire journal process...

Anon Post-Doc

This is certainly an interesting issue, about which I have a few thoughts.

Over the last 4 years or so I've received a range of what seemed to be desk-rejects, from the 1-10 days range, to the 3-4 month range. As was said in the OP, speedy desk rejections are helpful if they are reasons of lack of fit, for example (one can then ship the paper to somewhere more appropriate).

Although perhaps one basic rule that authors do not always follow (and I include myself in this at times) is really assessing whether the paper's content and style is a good fit for a journal. I guess one motivation authors may have - especially for the top generalist journals - is just a 'send and see' approach. Even if its not strictly in line with what the journal typically publishes the potential pay off of a publication in a top generalist is such that I imagine many authors (especially those needing to rack up good pubs for job apps etc) just try for at least one of these regardless, especially if its the first or second outing of the paper. In such cases there is culpability on the authors in a sense, but the situation re: jobs and pubs is such that they can hardly be blamed for 'trying their luck'.

On a slightly different note, I wonder whether at the 2-3 month mark some of the top journals are deliberately not being entirely transparent about whether papers are being desk rejected or not. Say a journal takes 3 months to desk reject a paper, and that is the norm (say due to overworked editors and backlogs), and you are told when its rejected that it was a desk-reject. Then you might reasonably think 'well if it takes 3 months to get a measly desk reject at X, then i'm not going to send something there again!'. I think if a journal has your paper for more then 2 months then it seems reasonable to either have some explanation of the rejection or at least be told prior to submission that desk rejections can take as long as 2-3 months (and in those cases you likely wont get comments).

As a final thought, one feature of the 2 to 3-month reject without comments is that it very much puts you at ground-zero with that paper. You don't have any ref comments to go on and you are left in the dark about whether the paper was deemed to be good, average, awful, not fitting, or whatever. While ref comments or even editor comments should not be the sole or principal way of getting feedback on papers they are surely one good way, sometimes from experts in your field (who one might not have access to otherwise). This is contentious of course, and ive often read people saying that the purpose of peer-review at journals is not to provide feedback on papers per se. This would be fine if everyone were guaranteed some minimal level of feedback on papers, say by their PhD granting institution, but this is certainly not the case.

So summing, I think there are some good reasons why journals should be more transparent about what was a desk-reject and what was not, and about their desk-reject time-scale. No doubt some journals' practices reflect the increasingly high level of submissions, but given that the scales of power are tipped in the hands of journals and their editors, more transparency would be very helpful, especially to early-career philosophers trying to make their way in the profession in a timely fashion.


Lots of these are probably not desk rejections. I referee a lot. Recently, many journals explicitly will tell referees that they do not need to provide comments, and that what really matters is that they make a quick decision. Also, some journals have a two-tiered refereeing system (they ask you to make an initial judgment within, say, two weeks, which you don't need to back up: essentially, they ask you to decide whether the paper is worth engaging in in more depth, at which point you can say "yes, I'll write a referee report for this). I personally like this latter system; some papers are just obviously really bad (e.g. misunderstand literature completely, have no thesis, etc.), and so all the referee is doing is acting sort of like an editor at the first stage, but they have the benefit of being an expert about the particular topic of the paper.

Marcus Arvan

Hi anonymous: Fair points, but there seems to me a big difference between a 2-3 week turnaround for cases like this, and 2-3 months. The former seems to me a very reasonable timeframe for rejecting papers without comments, the latter plausibly too long (if a referee can reject a piece without comments, why do they need 2-3 months to do it?).

Marcus Arvan

Anon Post-Doc: Good points, I agree!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: As I've mentioned in previous posts, I worry about any system that lacks transparency. Allowing reviewers to reject pieces with no comments at all permits (I'd say encourages) all kinds of biases to play a significant roles in the peer-review process--where at least if there are comments, an author and editors can evaluate whether the reviewer has reasonable grounds for their recommendation.

As an anecdotal aside, having submitted papers for review in psychology (and being married to an academic psychologist), my experience is that rejections without comments are exceedingly rare in their field. Even when I've had a paper desk-rejected in psychology, I've almost always gotten fairly detailed comments from the editor justifying the desk-rejection.

In any case, setting all of these concerns aside, if there are going to be rejections without comments, the time-frame seems to me relevant. It's one thing to receive a rejection without comments after 2-3 weeks, another to receive it 2-3 months later. Given that rejections without comments require comparatively little effort by the reviewer(s) in question, it's hard for me to understand, at first glance, what could justify a 2-3 month turnaround time.


Marcus: I don't know, but my guess is that part of the problem is that even when journals tell people they can give no comments, or do the two week initial judgment thing, most potential referees turn them down. So, my guess is that sending it to referees at all adds a lot of extra time to the process during which it is not actually in the hands of the person who finally agrees to referee it. Of course, it could also just be editor slowness! But I do get the sense from talking to people involved in the editorial process that often it is not waiting for reports that makes things take a long time, but (or in addition) finding and securing a reliable referee.


I have published papers in top specialist journals, gotten rejections from the same journals (desk-rejections and rejections with review reports). Desk-rejections are always quick and the editors usually give a reason why the paper was desk-rejected (sometimes they even suggest another journal where to send the paper) and when papers are sent to review referee reports are always good even when my papers were rejected (also: I have always received at least two referee reports from specialist journals). So perhaps the problems with slow desk-rejections and problems with incompetent referees are only a problem in top generalist philosophy journals? Do others have the same experience?


This reminds me. I have a journal that has not treated me well as far as making me do multiple revisions and then rejecting my paper, on more than one paper. In the end I have never published with them. But they ask me to referee A LOT. I really kind of feel like this is an emotionally abusive relationship lol.


i just want to second a couple of things said by anonymous.

1. I don't think whether or not a paper gets comments is a particularly safe indication of whether or not it's been desk rejected - referees might not give comments, and journals might not send comments on for a number of reasons - indeed for some, this is official policy (though i'm not endorsing that).

2. we shouldn't underestimate the time it takes to find referees. The following kind of timeframe strikes me as entirely reasonable: 1-3 weeks for journal to get around to processing paper, thinking of some potential referees, and sending out paper, 1-2 weeks to hear back that it can't be done, 1-2 weeks to resend, 1-2 weeks to hear another no. Repeating a number of times, we easily reach the 2-3 months before it even gets looked at properly, at which time, apply point 1 above.

3. That said, if something is a genuine desk rejection, i do agree that a 1 month limit would be reasonable


This is a collective action problem. Certain top generalist journals seem to have an overly opaque review process and seldom provide explanations for rejection. What we should do is collectively stop submitting to them. There are many top quality journals that are well run like AJP and Synthese. Avoid the ones that aren’t like Phil. Stud. and Imprint. They’ll soon change their ways or become irrelevant.

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous & Andrew (and others): thanks for clearing things up. I guess my concern then is how ubiquitous the practice of allowing referees to reject without comments is in our discipline. As I’ve suggested before, I think I that practice is arguably problematic vis-a-vis what I’ve always thought the point of peer-review is (or at least should be): a transparent process where decisions are justified by one’s peers, in a manner that guards against bias. The more able referees are to reject things without a word of justification, the more open the process seems to me to personal or systemic bias. This is, at least, why I always feel duty bound to authors and editors to provide a detailed justification when I review papers. If I can’t explain why a paper should be rejected in words that I am willing to make transparent and stand by, then there are no checks or balances against me (perhaps unwittingly) rejecting a paper simply because I don’t like it or am in some way biased against the author’s claims.

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