Dr. Lyn Walden
Why are papers rejected so many times?
I am asked quite frequently why a paper is rejected so many times. Why are reviewers so picky? What problems do I see that causes a document to be rejected other than content? Other than APA and grammar, which I provide in an article in the upcoming edition of Living Education eMagazine, here is a list of the most common problems I have seen in the many papers I have read by doctoral candidates who were trying to understand why their papers were rejected. Maybe this will help.
Use of et al.: If you list 3-5 authors one time, use et al. thereafter with the first author’s name (i.e., Jones, Smith, and Brown (2016) will become Jones et al. (2016) after first listing). For more than 5 authors, use et al. consistently (i.e., Jones et al. ). Et al. roughly translates to “and company.” Maybe this will help you remember not to put the period after “et”. Think of “et” as meaning “and.”
Wrong word: If in doubt of a word, highlight the word, click on “Synonyms,” and make certain you really have the word you want. Do not just put in a word because you think it looks important.
Watch references inside parentheses: Make certain they are in the same order as they are in the reference list—alphabetical.
Use an ampersand (&) only in the references and inside parentheses: Use the word “and” in text. Never use clichés and colloquialisms: Your dissertation must be scholarly (i.e., on the other hand, use conversely; hit or miss, use spasmodically or occasionally).
Watch unclear antecedents (i.e., stand-alone pronouns to start a sentence). Remember, a pronoun refers to the last-named noun. (i.e., starting a sentence—There is such and thus). Unclear antecedents are a hot issue with most deans.
Watch spacing: Check with your chair whether you should use one or two spaces between sentences and be consistent. Yes, this is important. Use no extra spaces between paragraphs.
Split infinitives: NO: to quickly go; YES: to go quickly: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/split-infinitives
Missing References: You must account for every reference in your paper, and you may not have extra references (references in your reference list that are not in your paper). The count must be exact.
Repetitive Text: Do not cut and paste portions of your paper except for your research questions and purpose statement. Any repeated text will be caught and made to be deleted.
Plagiarism: If I can spot this just by reading a paper the first time, think what sophisticated software can find. Plagiarism includes tables, graphs, and charts.
Too Emotional: A paper written on a subject that is too close to a candidate is usually emotional and biased, not scholarly and neutral. These papers rarely make it past the first formal review.
Position Paper: A paper that is stating an opinion, not conducting a research study, is a position paper, not a dissertation. I would say about one-third of the people who contact me with repeat rejections have written a position paper, not an objective research study. I cannot help these people.
Out of date references: You must have 85% of the total number of your references deemed current, which means published within 5 years of the date you graduate. You cannot use old references except for historical and for your theoretical/conceptual framework. (In rare cases, you can apply for and receive a waiver from this mandate.)
Every statement of fact must have a current, peer-reviewed source. (The exception is the theoretical/conceptional framework, which still needs a source for every statement of fact, just not current, peer-reviewed). Just because you know something does not mean you do not need a current, peer-reviewed source. In the first three chapters of a dissertation, you know nothing.
Passive voice and anthropomorphisms are always factors with the dean.
Formatting Issues: Universities are quite specific about margins, headings, and spacing. Read your dissertation manual.
Not following directions or adhering to chair comments: This is non-negotiable. You cannot make up your own rules. If you are unclear on something I listed, just ask. I have been doing this for more than 25 years, and these are the issues I have noticed. Of course, every rule has an exception, but these problems have been consistent in papers I have read for a long time.
Dr. Lyn at firstname.lastname@example.org