It happens increasingly often, especially if you send work to journals with high impact factors. I’ve been an editor and I know there are difficult decisions to make. It can be kinder to an author to reject immediately if you sense that the paper isn’t going to make it through the review process. One thing you learn as an author is that there’s no point protesting or moaning. You just try again with another journal. I’m confident our paper is important and will get published, and there’s no reason for me to single this journal out for complaint. But this experience has made me reflect more generally on factors affecting publication, and I do think there are things about the system that are problematic.
So, using this blog as my soapbox, there are two points I’d like to make: A little one and a big one. Let’s get the little one out of the way first. It’s simply this: if a journal commonly rejects papers without review, then it shouldn’t be fussy about the format in which a paper is submitted. It’s just silly for busy people to spend time getting the references correctly punctuated, or converting their figures to a specific format, if there’s a strong probability that their paper will be bounced. Let the formatting issues be addressed after the first round of review.