When deciding about a manuscript (accept, revise, or reject), I have two levels of revision: minor and major. The language and tone of the two letters is slightly different, but functionally for the author and for the GEMS system, there is really only one difference: the turnaround time. For a minor revision, the authors are given one month, and for a major revision, the window is two months. There are some papers that I reject because I think the paper is clearly not ready for the journal, but there are other times when I have to make a judgment call. Do I think the authors can do this work in two months? If my answer is no, then I will often reject the paper instead of giving them a major revision decision.
That said, authors know best how much time they need to revise a paper. If it takes more than 2 months, then they will withdraw the manuscript and resubmit it when it is ready. If it takes them less time, then it was appropriate to give them the major revision decision and keep the original manuscript number and initial submission date. So, why even reject papers at all? Why not just let authors decide?
It’s a fair question and one with which I struggle regularly. So far, I am often deciding in favor of a major revision rather than reject, therefore letting the author “self-reject” if the changes cannot be made in the turnaround window provided.
There is a big and fundamental difference, however, in the decision for major revision and rejection. If it is only a major revision, then there is still a connection of this manuscript with JGR Space Physics and there is an implicit obligation for the author to resubmit it to JGR Space Physics when it is ready. That is, even when the decision has been made and the email sent, the decision of major revision means that it is still in the review process with JGR Space Physics, just with the author rather than with the referees or the editor.
Rejecting the paper frees the author to go elsewhere with the manuscript. The authors could then resubmit immediately to another journal, revise it to whatever level they see fit and submit it to another journal, or make the revisions in the decision letter and compile replies to the reviewers and resubmit it to JGR Space Physics. We hope that authors choose the third of these options, but with a rejection, they can choose either of the other two options.
Therefore, sometimes I reject papers based on the reviews. It’s a necessary and useful tool for both editors and authors.