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I submitted a paper to a mathematics journal last year and got a "revise and resubmit" type of response. I edited the paper following some of the referees' comments and suggestions, but the paper has changed quite substantially since then. I brought on a coauthor, reworked some of the basics (not at the suggestion of the referee), added a lot of material, and ended up more than doubling the length of the paper. However, certain core aspects remain from the original paper.

I would like to submit to a different journal because I feel the paper is now somewhat different and of a higher quality. I am worried though that there is some ethical obligation to stick with the original journal because of the labor that the editor and referees have already put in with the first version of my paper; otherwise it seems that labor is wasted with respect to their publishing interests.

Should I stick with the original journal, or is OK to switch?

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  • 3
    inform them you are "widthdrawing".
    – PatrickT
    Aug 12, 2021 at 1:16
  • 3
    @PatrickT there is no withdrawal
    – Alchimista
    Aug 12, 2021 at 9:17

6 Answers 6

45

There is no obligation. The paper is yours. Make your own decisions. They have no obligation to publish the revised paper and you have none to resubmit to them either.

They have spent some limited resources in helping you, but that is within their business model. The referees have done you a service, but many review for more than one journal. But that service is just one that we do for one another in the pursuit of a greater goal.

You haven't signed a contract. Make your own best choice.

If the option is open to you, formally withdraw the paper or inform the editor that you won't be resubmitting so that they can arrange their systems appropriately. That might also be an opportunity to thank them for their consideration.

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  • 11
    +1. If you do withdraw you might say why (paper is now quite different and twice as long) . Do thank the editor. Aug 11, 2021 at 17:45
  • 10
    With the "revise and resubmit" decision, I imagine one would not have to formally withdraw, because the EMS is treating the paper as rejected.
    – Allure
    Aug 12, 2021 at 2:01
  • 2
    @EthanBolker technically there is no "withdraw. The paper has to be resubmitted. Still, it is possible to inform the editor of the development and new choice, if this becomes actual.
    – Alchimista
    Aug 12, 2021 at 9:16
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I think it would be wrong to intend ahead of time to submit to one journal just to see what the reviews say, and then to submit elsewhere. Kind of like interviewing for a job you know you won't ever take just for interview experience.

Your circumstance is different: the paper has changed substantially and you don't see it as fitting this journal any more. You don't have a contract with them, the referees are taken from the academic community you belong to and aren't belonging to the journal. The editor's time is worth considering but overall that's a minor bit of effort for just one paper.

Your revised paper needs a thorough peer review from start to finish now. It's not merely a modification of the old paper if you've doubled the length and added a bunch of comment. I think you can feel free to submit it where you feel it is most appropriate. It could possibly be a faster process to stick with the same journal, but that may not be a strong concern of yours, and may not even be true given the extent of changes made.

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  • 3
    For what it's worth, I don't think it's that wrong to interview for a job that you think you probably won't take. Maybe in academia, in the business world, not so much. And, you never know, you may end up being enchanted with what you find during the interview.
    – Flydog57
    Aug 12, 2021 at 15:51
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    @Flydog57 I think it's perfectly fine if it's honest; a lot of universities host internship fairs and such where students are invited and expected to practice interview skills, and there's less of a implication of interest in the particular position. There's also a difference between "probably won't take" and "definitely won't take". I think it's unethical to waste other peoples' time and money; if you say "I like my current job and don't plan to move" but you are open to an interview anyways, then it's up to the interviewer whether they want to spend the time or not.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 12, 2021 at 15:55
  • "Kind of like interviewing for a job you know you won't ever take just for interview experience." I always advise graduating students to make their first interview ever in their life for a job they probably don't want. I don't advise them to lie, but in general there's no expectation that the candidate must want the job above some threshold X before even having an opportunity to ask about the job. Interviews go both ways. With the reduced anxiety of low risk of bombing, the candidate could actually do well and find out they are interested.
    – uhoh
    Aug 14, 2021 at 22:59
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I would feel some responsibility to the original journal, as the editor's ability to get the manuscript to the right referees was a factor in improving the paper. That said, to do as you described isn't all that bad.

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Referees and editors usually aren't paid; your withdrawing the paper doesn't take anything that's theirs. And the typically parasitic publishing companies generally deserve no loyalty. Your loyalty to your profession - to get your paper in the most appropriate journal - should come first. If they see your paper in another journal, and see that their feedback has helped, they should smile. Of course the specifics for this journal could be different.

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Your only obligation is to take the reviewers comments seriously and act on them before submitting the revised manuscript, which you have done (kudos - there are many authors that don't and just submit somewhere else).

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Since you reworked some of the basics, independent of what the referees said: I think it's morally acceptable to submit elsewhere, and likely legal, though check the applicable laws involved. NOTE: I am US-based. We submitted several papers that were somewhat similar several places, but they vary enough that it was valid to do so. This was decades ago.

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