How to get your work published

You did some work that you think is great (or at least reasonable), but it was rejected by the journal you sent it to? This is disappointing, but not the end of all hope...

Rejection letters usually give some reasons for rejection; if they don't you may request (in a polite way!) getting reasons so that you can learn from them. And then _do_ learn from them! Usually the reasons for rejection are sound and mean at least that you didn't pose your case well. It also takes some time to learn the standards that publications should respect, and it is likely that you violated some of the unspoken rules without realizing it.

If your idea is far from mainstream, you need also convince people that your approach is sound and merits spending the time to read through the new proposal. This is difficult since you need to build up trust; it requires that you have a high level of frustration tolerance.

The less mainstream an idea the stronger must be its contents and the more careful it must be argued to be publishable; use the feedback you get to find out the standards expected and then go and meet them. The difference between a crank and a serious researcher is that the letter learns from criticisms and grows through each feedback, while the former 'knows' (and acts on this assumption) that he is right and that established physics is just rejecting him or her for no good reasons.

If you enter a correspondence with anyone who takes the time to read your work, stay polite even when the answers you get are not what you hoped for. Once the tone of your mail gets defensive or aggressive, you probably lost your case - your partner sees that you try to replace facts by emotions and your credibility is gone.


Time is precious for active scientists. So keep your article as short as possible without losing substance. 120 pages of detailed analysis, say, is too much for most people to read, unless they already have high confidence that the contents is sound. If you really need 120 pages to make your case you need to make short versions of your long paper that allow others to do checks for reasonableness with less efforts.

You'd then have a 1/2 page abstract, a 3 page introductory essay, a 7 page outline version, a 20 page version with the key steps, and a full paper with all the details, and each of these versions should be self-contained and allow the reader to get a feeling of what you do, and why you succeed - in terms of background that shows that you are familiar with the state of the art, and in a language that is both understandable and concise. Then anyone reading it gets a sense of high quality work that is informative and inviting.

Note that the most important task is not to present your claim and praise or defend your work, but to convince others that your claim deserves trust enough to spend time on checking it. It is all too easy to make claims that are unsubstantiated but embedded in a complicated manuscript where one gets easily lost, loses track of what is important, and therefore misses the mistakes or gaps in the arguments. It is the responsibility of the innovator to present the news in a way that makes checking and trusting easy.


Of course one can find many published papers that do not meet these standards. This is probably because their contents is not important enough to require high standards of checking, or because their conclusions are not inviting suspicion. But innovative work invites suspicion since it is far from the common, and if relevant requires therefore higher standards to be accepted.


  • On expertise and credentials
  • How to get your work published
  • How to respond to critical referee's reports
  • How to sell your revolutionary idea

    Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)
    A theoretical physics FAQ