Intended for healthcare professionals


How to get your paper rejected

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 16 December 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1469
  1. Horacio Plotkin, assistant professor of paediatrics and orthopaedics (hplotkin{at}
  1. University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA

    These days, if you do not publish, you perish. Well, you don't perish, but you do not get promotions. With promotions come more responsibilities, more paperwork, more income tax. If you want to stay comfortably in your position, you should not publish. Here are a few tips to get your papers eternally rejected. Proving the efficacy of the method, this article was rejected by the Lancet on 14 May 2004, by the New England Journal of Medicine on 19 May 2004, by JAMA on 27 May 2004, by Science on 24 June 2004, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on 29 June 2004, and by Nature on 30 June 2004.

    Getting started

    Start by looking at your data randomly. Something will come out. Why bother with writing a protocol when you already have results?

    Be imaginative when writing the title. Put marketing before science. Attract the reader with the promise of an answer you don't have.

    Use fancy words.

    Questions and answers

    In the abstract, ask as many questions as you can. Show them how broad your interests are.

    Come up with a creative answer to a question, any question. Answers always look nice.

    In the introduction, criticise the work of possible reviewers. Be particularly nasty. This is your chance for revenge.

    Do a very extensive discussion of the literature in the introduction. They may not like your results, but they may publish it as a review.

    Use more fancy words.

    As for the materials and methods, sample size calculation is an imperfect science. Calculate the sample size needed based in the size of your sample.


    Describe your methods in random order. Who cares, as long as all the information is there.

    Do not describe your methods in detail. The readers of major journals should know better what you are talking about.

    Be careful not to give many details. The section will be confusing, and if somebody repeats your experiments he or she may get a different result. You do not have time for controversy.

    Use even more fancy words.

    Show every single result that you have obtained (or found in the records, actually). Show how thorough you have been in your search for data.

    Again, describe your results in random order. You may order them alphabetically.

    Have your 4 year old daughter proofread your spelling, and your 2 year old son proofread the grammar.

    What you know

    Critically discuss your results, comparing them with others'. I mean being critical of others. This is your second chance for revenge.

    You know your conclusions make sense. Do not bother with explaining why.

    You know your data are good. You have spent a lot of time copying those darn numbers from the charts. They should support your conclusions.

    You know that results often tell more than what is evident. Feel free to draw imaginative conclusions.

    The right answer

    What you think is obviously the answer, must be the right answer. Do not look for alternative explanations that will make everything even more confusing.

    List references, many references. Copy references from other papers. Do not bother reading the actual articles. If they are published, they have to be accurate.

    Do not bother following the journal style for references. You can always change that later.

    Add five or six charts. Better still, put in several tables cluttered with numbers. That way, you make sure that nobody will read them.

    A work of art

    Do not revise your paper. Think of it as a work of art, that is how it came out of your brain in the first place.

    And, finally, my best advice of all:

    Get the name of the editor in chief wrong—or get it right, but misspell it.

    View Abstract