Why Your Academic Articles Are Always Accepted, and 5 Things That Tells You About Your Academic Career

By Sara McAdory-Kim

So you’re an academic, probably early, or at least early-ish, in your career. And, as you must in this publish-or-perish world, you’ve submitted your work to various journals in your field, spent weeks or months (or possibly years!) waiting anxiously to hear back from editors, perhaps submitted a few revisions…and every time, you get that email that begins with “Congratulations!”

So you wonder:

Why Do All My Articles Get Accepted?

I thought academia was about rejection. Am I doing something wrong?

Probably not. Or at least, not exactly. But this unusual (some might say unbelievable) situation can give you some hints to help you steer your career as an academic.

Reason 1: You’re Not Aiming High Enough When Choosing Journals

One reason your academic articles are getting accepted every time could be that you’re not aiming high enough.

Think about where you submit. Now, if you’ve ever submitted to Nature, you likely aren’t asking why your articles always get accepted, because they probably don’t. I mean, everyone wants to publish in Nature, or their field’s equivalent, but I’m willing to bet that most folks who have work accepted to Nature have been rejected from Nature at least once.

Football goalposts on a field

But every field and even most subfields have tiers of journals. There are different ways to organize them, and if you spend enough time reading the literature relevant to your work, you ought to have a good idea of the relative prestige (and thus, generally, difficulty of acceptance) for each journal.

So, what should you do about it? Submit your work to more prestigious journals – with one big caveat. First, do what you can to check the review and decision timelines for any journal you’re considering (which you should do every time you consider submitting to a journal, whether you’re trying to up your prestige game or not). This is because if you’re submitting to a place that’s a reach, you don’t want your work sitting there in someone’s inbox or the equivalent for months before they even look at it, which does, unfortunately, happen at some journals.

In some cases, finding the information about a journal’s review and publication timelines is easy: For example, journals published with Elsevier generally have a page showing these statistics:

Screenshot from Elsevier’s homepage for Social Science Research, available at link.

Other times, it’s a lot harder. There are, for example, you encounter several shady-looking sites that purport to have these details when you google Journal Name Time to Publication, but, for a journal I know very well, these had completely incorrect information, which is not surprising since these sites appear to be crowdsourced but not widely used.

It may be a matter of poking through a publication’s website until you find the information – yes, that’s a drag, and you may come up empty.

Or, you may wish to email the staff and/or editor to say you’re considering a journal as a home for your work and wonder what the timeline might be – always a judgment call, since not all editors respond well to this, but in my experience, editors of a well-run journal do respond well, so just the response (or lack thereof) can tell you whether you want to take a bet on a publication.

Either way, it’s worth it to aim high once in a while.

Reason 2: You’re Choosing the Right Journals!

Congratulations – you know your literature! If every article you submit is accepted, you may know your field’s publishing landscape very well and be picking the right journal for each article. You may be in this camp if your articles are accepted to journals at a variety of prestige levels, and in journals covering various niches of your field as well as more generalist ones.

If this is you, I don’t have much advice for you. Except maybe…

Reason 3: You’re Not Submitting Enough

Ugh, I know the last thing any academic wants to hear is “write more.” But if all your articles are accepted, and you’re sure that you’re aiming high enough, you could submit more. I mean, if it bothers you that much that all your articles are accepted.

The words “Perfection Is Stagnation” written on a chalkboard, messily.

Seriously, though, if you’re in a field where it’s usual to publish 10 articles a year, and you’re publishing two (but with 100% acceptance rate), you should probably find a way to reorganize your work life so that you can write and submit more work – whether that’s spinning off more niche projects into smaller journals, letting go of perfectionism that’s holding you back, allowing yourself to be a crappier teacher than you want to be so you can focus on publishing, blocking your time, working on coauthored projects, or something else. This is very individual, and frankly, I don’t have the answers for you. I recommend you talk to an advisor or mentor or take advantage of a coaching-type program like this one (no connection to me – but I know folks it’s helped a lot).

Reason 4: You’re publishing in scammy journals

There’s a small possibility of a more sinister reason your articles are always accepted: You’re publishing in scammy journals. If you’re up on your field’s literature and aim high, this is unlikely, but there are so many scammy journals out there these days – some with very similar names to legitimate journals – that it can almost happen to anyone. In the age of open access journals, where many legitimate journals charge fees for publication, this can be more difficult than ever to discern.

A graphic of a hand reaching out of a computer to take money from a man

One major warning sign of a scammy journal is that acceptance and publication come very quickly. Peer review at a legitimate journal, except in rare circumstances that often involve journals paying an expedition fee to reviewers, rarely takes less than 2 weeks and likely takes more than 4-6 weeks for the first round. Similarly, even after an article is accepted, getting to publication (aside from preprint publication) can take weeks as an article is (hopefully) copyedited, typeset, proofed, and so on. If your articles are all getting accepted a few days after you submit them, then published online a few days later, you’re likely falling victim (and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars) to scammers. My advice: Be savvy about discerning legitimate fee-for-publication journals from scammy ones.

Reason 5: You’re just that good and/or lucky

If your articles are always accepted to every journal to which you submit, it’s also possible that you’re just that good and/or lucky. If this is the case, you have something to look forward to: Your first rejection.

Many thanks to @drnursenick, whose question on Twitter made me ponder this question!

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