Spreading good words around...
Spreading good words around...

'I would therefore formally ask you to reconsider your decision .  . .'

The correspondence on this page traces the rejection by the Lancet of our research into 'evidence based writing' and our subsequent unsuccessful appeal.


I publish it here because showing how the paper went through peer review will help readers to judge for themselves the usefulness, or otherwise, of the research.

Rejection from The Lancet'

Many thanks for submitting your Research Letter entitled 'Towards evidence based writing'. We sought external advice, but I am afraid that our decision is against publication here. I enclose some comments from my adviser which I hope prove some help, but editorial priorities also contributed to our decision.

Comments from reviewer (anonymous)


This letter presents a novel way of looking at an author's ability to publish related to writing style rather than manuscript content. It is an interesting idea - knowing your audience is an important part of any form of presentation; written or verbal.


Firstly, one would hope that the discerning journal editor would place greater emphasis on manuscript content than writing style. The latter is relevant but meaningless in the absence of the former. As a peer-reviewer, for example, the number of paragraphs is irrelevant to a recommendation for or against publication. There are many other (more important) factors that contribute to the ability to successfully publish a manuscript. The contribution of each factor needs to be considered in the light of all the others.


An important question is whether or not it is the journal editors or the authors who change a manuscript to suit a particular journal's style. Is the style of the published article, therefore, a reflection of the original submission or of editorial licence? The study currently reported is a retrospective review of published manuscripts and we cannot answer this question using the information to hand. We also know nothing about the manuscripts submitted at the same time and subsequently rejected.


I am not sure the content of this letter helps authors to 'know' their audience any better. When writing a manuscript a decision is made somewhere along the line as to which journals might be appropriate. The criteria used by authors to select journals was described in a study by F Frank (Authors' criteria for selecting journals. JAMA 272 (2), 163-4, 1994). The top five criteria identified were:

  • the journal's prestige
  • the makeup of the journal's readership
  • whether the journal usually publishes articles on the topic
  •  the likelihood of manuscript acceptance
  • the size of journal circulation

We can conclude from the current study that journals have different styles. Whether or not knowing this can help authors to successfully get their manuscripts through the peer-review process and published is debatable.

Our letter to the Lancet appealing the decision


Thank you for your prompt response to our research letter. I read with interest the comments from your reviewer. Having spent many happy hours in training courses advising writers to appeal if they can make a logical and sensible case that the reviewer has misinterpreted the paper, I thought I would take my own advice.

  1. The prevailing ideology among scientists is that the publication of scientific papers is based on rational selection (or the nearest one can get to it). We believe that the publication of scientific papers can be seen also as a commercial process. There is a market economy, in which those who can match most closely the needs of the client will have the greatest success.
  2. No-one disputes that journals vary in terms of content. What we have found resistance to is the notion that there are other (structural) variables. What our study set out to test was whether this was in fact so.
  3. We were delighted that your reviewer felt this was a novel idea. We were also delighted to note that he had no methodological queries.
  4. However, your reviewer then went on to reject this finding as of no interest. This is based not on data but on opinion: 'I would hope… I am not sure…'. The only paper your reviewer cites is based on writers' self-reported views on why they submit to certain journals, which is not relevant here.
  5. We believe that your reviewer's attitude demonstrates why the letter should be higher in the list of priorities for a journal like the Lancet that aims to challenge established dogmas. As your reviewer states, it is 'arguable' whether writers will benefit from seeing the publication process as not just an academic exercise but a marketing one as well. We believe it should be discussed in public, and - for the first time - provide some data to inform the arguments.

I would therefore formally ask you to reconsider your decision.

Response from the Lancet

I have discussed your appeal letter with the Deputy Editor . . but I am afraid that our decision remains the same - against publication here. We take your points about our reviewer's comments, but are unpersuaded that our editorial priorities need change in this case.

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