Can a paper accepted with “major revisions” get rejected after those major revisions?

In my last post I wrote that I was having problems with motivation, which was true. Motivation, however, returned after getting a paper back from review with the status “accepted with major revisions”. This is fairly promising as it is my last paper to be included in my PhD thesis. So the review, in which reviewers were really positive about the topic but a bit critical about the methods, has really kept me busy and very inactive at this blog.

The thing is that I’ve always viewed papers that get “accepted with major revisions” as a really positive thing, because if you just address the reviewers comments the paper will eventually get accepted. This is my experience.

This morning, however, I learned something completely different. Another paper, a review paper that me and my colleagues submitted in June last year, that got the decision “accept with major revisions” by October last year had gotten a decision. The paper had by October received two really inadequate reviews, one suggesting accept right away with no critical comments at all (which is weird in itself) while the other one had two major criticisms, the review’s sample size and the structure of the paper, and therefore recommended rejecting the paper (what the fuck?). Due to the lack of a thorough review, the editor decided to also review the paper and provide suggestions for improving it, indeed a nice thing since we needed more guidance on how to improve it. After revising the paper according to the comments we had received we were promised a quick second review of about a month, so that the paper would be published faster (the topic is rather “hot” and we want to be first with it). After two months of hearing nothing I wrote the editor who simply responded that they had not heard anything from reviewers. After nearly three months (yesterday) I wrote them again to ask and finally got a decision back. Rejected, based on one review (not the same reviewer as before, I think) and with very few and unclear comments (the main criticism had not been raised in the previous review). The editor wrote me that this decision had been made so that we could move forward and get it published somewhere else, fair enough (or maybe not).

What have I learned?



I find the system of peer review working badly. Busy researchers who probably don’t have enough time for their own research are supposed to review papers for big publishing companies (who earn a lot of money) for free. On their spare time? I’m not surprised that reviews take forever and that it’s hard to find reviewers at all. I’m not saying that paying people to do it is the right way to go, but  I don’t think the current system is the right way either.

Does anyone have similar experiences? Please feel free to share in the comments section!

If you’ll excuse me I need to go and look for a new suitable journal.


2 thoughts on “Can a paper accepted with “major revisions” get rejected after those major revisions?

  1. I received minor revisions from one reviewer, they took the time to read line by line and comment (very few comments). I think the second reviewer suggested either a major revision or reject I couldn’t tell from their comments what they wanted. They raised questions which had they read the paper they would have the answer too. The editor just rejected the paper. The peer review process is very disheartening indeed.

    • Sorry to hear that, but unfortunately I think it’s quite common that reviewers make very different assessments. It’s hard to know why your paper got rejected unless you get feedback. I sometimes write the editor and ask for some feedback if I don’t understand why I my paper got rejected. Good luck!

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