If an author accepts an editor’s recommendation to transfer their manuscript to another AGU journal, all the metadata,and files, plus any previous reviews, are automatically transferred, making the experience very easy for the author. Credit: Modella/AdobeStock

In 2015, AGU launched a referral process which allows the editor of a journal to reject a manuscript but refer the submission to another AGU journal. The initial rejection may be because the subject matter falls outside the scope of the journal, or because its length and style are more suited to another forum. The aim is to find the best home within the AGU journals portfolio of high quality science.

If the author decides to transfer their manuscript to another journal, all the metadata and files go with it, so authors do not need to re-enter their information into the system. If the manuscript has already been reviewed, the reviews are transferred too. In other words, it’s all automated, making the transfer experience very easy for the author.

One of the reasons for introducing this system was the launch, also in 2015, of our broad-topic journal Earth and Space Science (ESS) which welcomes submissions that other AGU journals might consider out of scope. We were hoping that the transfer system would help authors discover the new journal. Now, with three full years of data, and the plan to further expand manuscript referrals with the launch of our newest journal, AGU Advances, here is a short analysis of the trends that we have seen so far in our referral process.

Figure 1: Decisions made in 2015-2017 on all AGU journal manuscripts independent of submission date.


The data are drawn from all decisions made on AGU journal manuscripts from 2015 to 2017. From these, I focused on reject decisions, and drilled even deeper into those rejected and referred.

During these three years, AGU journal editors made more than 40,000 decisions, of which 4% were “Reject and Refer” (Figure 1).

Almost one in five decisions were “Reject and Encourage Resubmission,” which allows authors to easily resubmit to the same journal while allowing unlimited time for revisions. An outright “Reject” decision was made on almost one-third of submissions.

Referrals to Other Journals

From 2015 to 2017 our high-prestige journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) referred the most manuscripts, with JGR: Atmospheres coming in second (Figure 2, blue bars). These are our two largest journals by volume of manuscripts submitted. Most referrals were to Earth and Space Science (ESS) and JGR: Atmospheres, driven mainly by GRL (Figure 2, green bars). JGR: Atmospheres mostly referred submissions to ESS (38%) and JAMES (23%).

Bar graph showing referral decisions given by each journal and referrals to journal.
Figure 2: Referral decisions given by each journal (blue bar); referrals to journal (green bar).

Author Uptake

An author is free to either accept an editor’s transfer recommendation or ignore it. If the author prefers to transfer to an AGU journal other than the one suggested by the editor that can be accommodated as well. But that transfer is a manual process done by staff which may slow down the referral by a day or two.

Figure 3 shows author uptake with the number of manuscripts transferred by the author with the dark blue line and displayed number and the editor referrals to the journal in light blue bars.

Bar and line graph showing referrals to the journal and author transfers to that journal.
Figure 3: Referrals to the journal (light blue bars); author transfers to that journal (dark blue line and displayed number).

Of the referrals suggested by editors, 40% were acted on by authors with the highest number of accepted transfers to JGR: Atmospheres and then JGR: Space Physics. Even though JGR: Space Physics received 9% of editor referrals, it had 12% of author transfers. Author uptake on JGR: Space Physics referrals was the highest of all journals (54%) with JGR: Atmospheres transfers coming in second with 40%. (This excludes a few journals that had ~100% uptake rates but were under 10 referrals.) These data show that ESS neither receives the most referrals nor has high transfer rates, which is something we are committed to increasing through editor and author awareness.

Fate of Transferred Manuscripts

Figure 4: Decisions of transferred manuscripts with the original “Reject and Refer” decision in 2015-2017 (excludes withdrawn and those still without a final decision).

A noteworthy finding is the similarity between editor decisions on all manuscripts (Figure 1) and editor decisions on manuscripts after they were transferred to a different journal (Figure 4). The manuscripts rejected and referred enjoy a fate similar to manuscripts overall.

Although the total number of transferred manuscripts was low in each of the following journals, the highest acceptance rates of transferred manuscripts occurred in JGR: Planets (75%), Radio Science (75%) and Space Weather (71%).

These figures suggest that those authors found the most appropriate AGU journal for their work thanks to the referral process.

What’s next?

From 2015 to 2017 over 12,000 manuscripts received an outright “Reject” decision, which represents an enormous potential for transfers to other AGU journals. As editors and authors get more accustomed to the referral system, we hope to see an increase in transfers between journals and a corresponding decrease in outright rejections. We also see the referral system as another way to: 1) decrease the submission burden on authors, 2) give authors more choices on where they submit their work, and 3) improve the efficiency of the peer review process.

—Paige Wooden (email: pwooden@agu.org), Senior Program Manager, Publication Statistics, American Geophysical Union


Wooden, P. (2018), Rejection doesn’t have to hurt: AGU’s manuscript referral system, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO106437. Published on 05 October 2018.

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