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I have submitted a journal paper to a journal four days ago and today I received an email informing me that it has been rejected. The only reason for this is: "About 70 % of the article is similar to other documents".

I know my paper and I know that I haven't copied it from anywhere else. There is a conference version of the paper, but it is different, plus it is 6 pages long, while the journal is 15 pages long, so since 6/15 = 40%, it doesn't add up to 70%, and this is not the reason for rejection.

The real reason is that my PhD thesis is available online (it is mandatory at my university to add it to an open repository if I want to graduate). I graduated 3 months ago, and in fact the last chapter of my thesis consists in the paper that was rejected now. However, I was always told both by my supervisor who is a full professor with 25 years of experience (and Associate Editor of top-notch journals) and by many other people that it is not a problem to submit a paper based on an already published PhD thesis, as journals should not consider the thesis as a paper. Therefore, I am very surprised by the decision made by the editor. What should one do? Wait to graduate until the paper is accepted? That is simply ridiculous.

Has this occurred to any of you? Do you know how journals behave in this case? I once reviewed a journal paper which was literally copy-pasted from a chapter of a PhD thesis of a student. I contacted the editor who had sent me that paper asking what to do and he mentioned that it is a standard and common practice and it shouldn't be considered self plagiarism. So, once again, I am very surprised by the decision made.

EDIT: as asked in the comments, here is the email I sent to the editor:

Dear Professor XYZ,

I am contacting you regarding the submission of my paper to the journal ABC123. As in the subject, the reference number of the manuscript is XXXYYYZZZ. Today I have received an email notifying me that my paper (submitted only 4 days ago) has been rejected. You may find the email attached to this email. The reason for this is: “About 70 % of the article is similar to other documents”.

The possible reason for this very high similarity is threefold:

  1. I have published a related conference paper before, containing preliminary results and much less content in general. However, that conference paper is 6 pages long, while the paper submitted to ABC123 is 15 pages long. Therefore, it is mathematically impossible for the conference paper to be the reason of the > 70% similarity, since 6/15 = 40%;
  2. The paper has been uploaded on arXiv. This was done the same day in which I sent the paper to your journal. However, this is allowed by Elsevier, as explained here;
  3. The contents of the paper are part of my PhD thesis, in particular, of Chapter 5. This is what probably results in the highest similarity, as the article submitted to your journal is based on this chapter. However, Elsevier’s policy with respect to PhD thesis is the following: “Elsevier does not count publication of an academic thesis as prior publication”.

I have run a plagiarism check myself, you can find it attached to this email. This confirms what I have said so far: the similarity of my article is related to my PhD thesis, not to any other previously published works.

Given the above explanations, I would kindly ask you if you could reconsider your decision. The plagiarism check returned indeed a similarity higher than 70%, but, as explained above, this is most likely related to my PhD thesis. However, Elsevier does not count PhD thesis as prior publication. Therefore, my paper submitted to ABC123 respects Elsevier’s policies and should therefore be considered a new publication.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

cholo14

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    If this journal's way annoys you, just choose another one. Some people have strange ideas about papera. (In this forum I read the opinion that a paper should be rejected if contains a single language typo.) Some people are strange. – user111388 Dec 6 '20 at 11:16
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    Perhaps email the editor to ask for clarification. Perhaps someone else plagiarized and published your work. – Prof. Santa Claus Dec 6 '20 at 19:10
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2158/… Are you sure this is a real journal? – Anonymous Physicist Dec 6 '20 at 22:40
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    @user2768: I don't know whether I would have written something like that (assuming I would have thought of it), but I bet it felt really good to write it. I found myself laughing (silently) and clapping (figuratively) when I read through #1-3 in the OP's update. – Dave L Renfro Dec 10 '20 at 11:08
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Email the editor, explain that their automated plagiarism detection system has seemingly gone awry, inadvertently flagging your PhD thesis.

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    I have done exactly this. I noticed that the jounral I submitted to does not consider PhD thesis as prior publications: elsevier.com/editors-update/story/publishing-ethics/… I have mailed the editor, and he almost immediately replied that he changed his decision. So now the status of the paper is "with editor" – cholo14 Dec 6 '20 at 11:21
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    @cholo14 Thank you. You should put your response comment as edit to the question. We are glad to see occasional problems to be resolved constructively. We get good news rarely enough. – Captain Emacs Dec 6 '20 at 15:42
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    I don't think it is necessary to edit the OPs comment into the question (except maybe the part about "PhD thesis are not considered prior publications). It's part of the answer, not the question. Anyone with the same issue will see the question, read the answer, and hopefully apply it, reading the comment for confirmation. – DJClayworth Dec 6 '20 at 18:26
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    @DJClayworth Comments are not permanent. I used to add some - relatively carefully crafted - refinements to answers, only to find them relegated to chat or being deleted. To make it permanent, it needs to be in question or answer. Many OPs have actually edited their final action and the outcomes into the question, including which answers helped them. This is more useful for a final record. – Captain Emacs Dec 6 '20 at 18:35
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    @CaptainEmacs: On the danger of being off-topic here: This makes me wonder whether the SE system isn't somehow lacking an "OP's Conclusion", some kind of a special permanent comment that can be left only by the OP and only on the accepted answer. Sure enough, regular comments are not guaranteed to be permanent. Also, an answer indicates a way the question could be solved, and its acceptance indicates it somehow solved the OP's issue, but in cases like this, the additional information of "how the answer was tested" is definitely worthwhile, as well. At the same time, though, the question ... – O. R. Mapper Dec 6 '20 at 22:40

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