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What does "not suitable" mean? [for a mathematics journal]

  1. Oct 3, 2014 #1
    Sigh. A couple of days ago my first paper got rejected. The editors claimed that " the experts we consulted felt that the paper is not suitable for the journal". A few days later I wrote them back requesting them to elaborate on where my paper had failed to meet their expectations and that any advice they gave would be very helpful to me. They replied that "the expert consulted did not have any comments on your paper other than that it was not suitable for the journal."
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2014 #2
    It's an incomplete polite excuse to not be in charge of your, likely, excellent paper. Clearly there is no bidirectional communication.
    Did you try sending it to somewhere else ?
  4. Oct 3, 2014 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    Did you show the paper to someone else in your field - a colleague perhaps?
    I'm with Medicol - but I'd add: recheck the publication guide and criteria for the journal.
    A more experienced colleague will be able to advise you which other journals to try.
  5. Oct 3, 2014 #4
    I'm not sure if either of you guessed that I'm quite young, but I just turned 16, so as far as colleagues in my field are concerned I have none at the moment. @Medicol that's encouraging and i'm gonna try sending my paper to another journal soon, but what does "not suitable" mean, does it mean that the quality of the work done is not good enough for the journal or something?? cause the one I sent it to was one of the most reputed ones, I obviously thought that given that they support short papers and considering my age they'd accept, but they didn't.
  6. Oct 3, 2014 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    Well, I suspected that you were inexperienced and working alone but I gave you the benefit of the doubt.
    Which journals and what was the subject of the paper?
    Do you have specific reason to expect that the publishers would favor papers by someone so young?

    From what you have now revealed, I suspect that the paper was simply not up to scratch. Possibly your writing showed your age and experience.

    Science is a collaborative process - papers, particularly to the better journals, typically undergo a departmental review to make sure they are up to scratch. I've known profs who put papers on their doors so others can scribble comments and corrections in the margins before submitting to a publisher. It is unlikely that you will be able to produce something publishable working by yourself.
  7. Oct 3, 2014 #6


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    If you are that young, and if I am correct in assuming that you do not have a lot of experience in publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals, then the term "not suitable" is often a polite way of journals editors saying that your submission is either nonsensical (they get a lot of crackpottery being submitted to them each day), is of the wrong topic for that journal, or does not satisfy the criteria of "importance and impact" for that journal, etc.

    Please note that for prestigious journals such as Science, Nature, and PRL, the work must not only be interesting, but it must also be important and have a wide-ranging impact, not just within that narrow area of research. To have a feel to know which journal a particular work is appropriate for takes YEARS of experience. You simply can't send something blindly to some journal and expect to be taken seriously. Also note that each journals may have a very strict format and style. PRL, for example, has a strict 4-page limit, etc. You are also evaluated on your presentation (i.e. is it clear enough, it is presented in an understandable manner, etc.) beyond just the actual content. Any of these could disqualify you from being considered.

    So how much knowledge about the journal you submitted to and its requirement do you have?

  8. Oct 3, 2014 #7
    Many thanks to everyone whose replied so far and tried to help me!
    The subject of the paper was a Diophantine equation in number theory that hadn't been solved before. (i.e. I claim to have solved it.)
    If I reveal the name of the journal would that dis-repute them?
    Unfortunately, no. It was kind of a leap of faith, and I was thinking that they would encourage budding mathematicians but perhaps that's no reason for them to accept papers that they feel are not good enough for their journal. But the equation in consideration has been open for more than a 130 years.
    What do you suggest I now do? My high school teachers are no good and I have no contacts at the local university. Perhaps you or someone else here would like to take the honor?
    Thanks for this!
    Yes, I checked that beforehand. In order to be qualified as a short paper, it needs to be below 20 pages.
    The only resource in this matter that I had and still do is the journal's website and the wiki page for the journal. So I know that they the subject of my paper is relevant to the journal and that the journal is one of the most prestigious ones in the world, so they only accept the best stuff.
  9. Oct 3, 2014 #8


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    Surely you have some people you discuss your research with? If you're a lone wolf it is quite possible you have huge holes in your knowledge of which you are unaware.

    When I submit a paper it has typically be read and ripped to utter shreads by three or four Ph.Ds. The paper ends up being far, far, better for it. There really is nothing better than peer review for clarifying your thinking and expression.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 3, 2014
  10. Oct 3, 2014 #9

    Simon Bridge

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    No. But it would provide us the appropriate context for your experience. Everybody gets turned down. Nobody is suggesting the editors did anything wrong by turning you down.

    That is correct - journals do not exist to encourage newcomers.
    Most journals publish some sort of mission statement.

    ... coo: which one were you working on?

    Remember - if the solution has eluded mathematicians much more experienced than you for over a century, then it is a hard problem.
    What have you done that nobody else has tried?

    ... you need to find someone to work with. Make contacts with the local university for instance.

    How many pages is this paper?

    You could try posting the general approach as a question in a math forum here... write out the equation and conjecture you intend to tackle, then a brief overview of your approach. "Leads to the following solution..." show the solution.
    Your question would be something like "what have I missed?"

    But make sure you are familiar with the rules first.
  11. Oct 4, 2014 #10
    At the moment, no, I am a lone wolf, but I am trying to change that. What you say is quite possible, and that is precisely why I am seeking help here. However I still insist that my paper is relevant because it doesn't really require too many prerequisites and I've gone through it over and over again many times (once after a long break too.)
    Brocard's problem. I think what was radically different in my approach was that I split the problem into several cases and dealt with those cases separately. At the end in fact I was able to show that Erdos's conjecture regarding the problem that only 3 brown numbers exist is in fact true. The journal I submitted to was the Annals Of Mathematics. Perhaps I feel a little ashamed too, to admit my naivety.
    I will definitely try to do this.
    5 pages long. So would you like to review it
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2014
  12. Oct 4, 2014 #11

    Simon Bridge

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    Everybody does that though.

    [quote]5 pages long. So would you like to review it[/quote]
    I'm pretty useless at this sort of thing. Have you seen:
  13. Oct 4, 2014 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    Have you been reading this journal regularly? If not, how do you know that this paper is suitable - that it's the sort of thing this journal prints? Besides that, the scientific literature is a dialog: wanting to publish without reading is like wanting to talk without listening. And it's about as popular.

    Did you tell the journal you were 16? If not, it's not really fair to complain they are not supportive. If so, why did you do that? If your proof is valid, does your age matter? If your proof is invalid, do you think the journal should publish it anyway because you're young?
  14. Oct 5, 2014 #13
    I do not have access to the journal therefore I am not a regular reader, but the Annals are famous for publishing stuff related to number theory. I can give no better example than that of Andrew Wiles paper on Fermat's Last Theorem (which is a diophantine equation.)

    Yes. (From the beginning.)
    I thought it did but Simon cleared me up on this.
    I would never support such ideology. Please do not misunderstand my inexperience for lack of character and wrong motivation. The proof is valid, I can send it to you if you like.
  15. Oct 5, 2014 #14
    Laughs. I knew you would reply something like that. 8 separate cases, I don't think I've seen that before, besides it's the classification scheme that really matters.

    Yep, long time ago.
  16. Oct 6, 2014 #15

    Simon Bridge

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    Journal is Annals of Mathematics then - don't know why you wouldn't want to say.
    Honestly - everyone breaks a problem into different cases and hopes they have not left some important case out. Naturally the devil is in the details: you are saying you've used a set of cases, or used them in a certain way, that nobody else has thought of before in over a century? Then that's begging the original question: what is it that you have done that nobody else has tried before?

    The only way to be sure of that is to use a method (a) you have invented, or (b) that has been discovered very recently.
    Example - the proof of Fermat's last theorem you cited used techniques that were very new at the time and unavailable to Fermat.
    You done something like that?

    Considering the response you got off the journal - is it possible that the peer-reviewer saw something that you missed?
    Anyway - I think you have the answer to your question: rightly or wrongly your paper failed peer review: it happens.
    To move on - get support. Someone knowledgable who can sit down and read your paper and make suggestions.
    I know - it's hard.
  17. Oct 6, 2014 #16

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    This paper almost certainly did not go out for peer review. If it had, there would be a report. The expert is almost certainly the associate editor whose job it is to find referees, and this message means that he or she feels it's not worth wasting the referee's time.

    ZapperZ's comments are spot on. The editor was able to tell immediately that this was not suitable. Maybe there is an obvious error. Maybe the argument is impenetrable. Maybe it's obvious that the author is unfamiliar with the literature or he journal's style and procedures.
  18. Oct 6, 2014 #17
    The only way I can convince you people that the paper does not have elementary mistakes is that you go through it. I would happily upload it here only I'm concerned that there is a possibility that someone might steal it?
  19. Oct 6, 2014 #18
    I suspected something similar given that I got the rejectance letter 10 days later. (which is I believe short even for a short paper.)
  20. Oct 6, 2014 #19
    Do you think mathwonk might be interested in this. (after all he seems to be the only regularly posting mathematician left on PF, hurkyl's been inactive for over a year now and matt grime even more than that.) Meanwhile there's an update guys. I just found out that my father has a friend who seems to know a professor at the university reasonably well and he's promised my dad to take me to him soon. Well we'll see how things go. Anyway I'll keep this thread updated through the developments.
  21. Oct 6, 2014 #20


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    I'm pretty sure that you are allowed to post a proof here for it to be critiqued.
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