(First appeared in Mathoverflow) In May 2020, I submitted a paper to a notable Combinatorics journal where a couple of earlier papers in the topic of my paper had been published. It was one of my first papers in Mathematics, and I didn't motivate the introduction as well as the referee would have liked as it turned out, and had imagined that the major result of the paper would sell itself. I received a detailed referee report in December 2020 where the referee mentions that according to them all the results are correct, and had a lot of suggestions for improving the writing of the paper and identified typos and misspellings. Then they said the paper seems insufficiently motivated and in their opinion, the paper seems borderline for publication in that journal. The referee said they would like to get contacted by the next journal where this paper may be submitted in case the editors decided to reject the paper.

The editor rejected the paper. I sent a follow up email to this editor politely asking if he could confirm that he would be able to forward the referee report to the next journal. I did not get a reply to this email.

In February 2021, I spent time trying to motivate the paper better and reworded parts of the introduction and included some examples and references to more recent work in the area, and then submitted to another new prestigious Combinatorics journal, requesting if they could use the earlier referee report. A month later, I sent a couple of emails requesting if they could let me know if the earlier referee had been contacted, but did not get a reply. In late October 2021, I sent a further email requesting for some information on the refereeing process, and got two new referee reports the next day. One of these said the paper is well motivated and well written and is suitable for publication, but that the main long proof could be written a bit better. The other detailed report said the paper is "worthy of attention" but asked for a lot of changes in the writing and that I spend time on the main theorem. The editor's message said overall this is no guarantee of eventual acceptance.

I completed the revision in December 2021, spending some time on rewriting this proof and including diagrams. I did not hear back from the editor till a couple of weeks back. I sent a couple of polite emails asking for the status, over a weekend, but didn't get a reply.

There was a follow up paper to this paper that was written up a bit poorly and ideally should have been worked on after this paper did get published. This was causing some amount of stress. I withdrew the paper two weeks back. Only then the editor emailed me saying he had a follow up referee report which noted that the paper had "improved considerably" although the "main theorem remains hard to follow, but perhaps that is a personal opinion", and lists a couple of small further typos.

The editor said he would be willing to forward these referee reports to the next journal I submit to. I replied thanking him, but also saying that if I knew it was actually close to being completely refereed here, I would not have withdrawn it.

The editor in chief of the next journal said he wanted "formal letters" from the editors in chief of the two previous journals. I wrote to both of these earlier journals about this. However, today I received a rejection saying they could not get hold of the previous referee reports.

Now I resubmitted again to the second journal, which took around a year and had two referees go through my paper. In this case, can I expect this journal again to consider this paper objectively?

  • 2
    There is so much here. I feel to some extent a lot of the history has become irrelevant. Is this a fair summary of the current state of affairs? You have previously submitted the paper to journals 1, 2, and 3. The paper was rejected from journal 1 after the referee reports, you withdrew the paper from journal 2 after a round of revisions with the referee (but found out after you withdrew that you had positive referee reports on the revised version), and the paper was rejected from journal 3 because they could not get the "formal letters." And you want to know what to expect now from journal 2?
    – Andrew
    Apr 4, 2022 at 1:31
  • Yes. Sorry I could have condensed this a bit.
    – laputa
    Apr 4, 2022 at 1:31
  • It seems like the most recent feedback you've had on your paper are the positive referee reports from journal 2. (Journal 3 rejected the paper, but for administrative reasons). I would just wait and see. My experience is in physics, not pure math, so take this with a grain of salt. But it seems like you have written a nice paper. Since you have already resubmitted to journal 2, taking more action now will just confuse things further. And, the last you heard from this journal, they like your paper. If that changes, you can deal with it -- but wait for them to decide.
    – Andrew
    Apr 4, 2022 at 1:35
  • So waiting it out is the best thing to do? I have published a couple of elementary Physics results and also refereed for a Physics journal incidentally, and in Physics things seem to move a lot quicker; editors start to request for reports a few weeks after initially requesting you. On the flip side, probably the papers are not always read by referees as thoroughly in Physics, as in Math. But regardless of the subject, in a situation like this it just seems like the right thing would be to do everything possible to help get it published in a comparable journal.
    – laputa
    Apr 4, 2022 at 1:41
  • At this point you've already resubmitted, so I think your best option is just to wait. Whatever worries you have about how journal 2 will perceive your first resubmission, will only be amplified if you withdraw and then end up to resubmit again. And, you've already tried submitting to another journal, and that didn't work -- probably better not to try it again if you don't have to. At this point, as far as I understand, the last thing you've heard from journal 2 about the content of your paper are positive referee reports. So that seems like a reason to give them a chance.
    – Andrew
    Apr 4, 2022 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


As the Editor-in-Chief of a reputable combinatorics journal, I find the story very strange or/and incomplete.

So an unmotivated paper is submitted to Editor A, who received two reports from referees B, C. I guess B's report was a "quick opinion". B noticed that the paper lacks motivation. Why was not the paper immediately rejected, is not clear. Then Editor A suggested that A sends report from C to another journal and to editor D, where the paper is going to be submitted.

Now either A will disclose the identity of referee C to Editor D and that violates the anonymity of the referee, or Editor D will use a report from a referee whose name Editor D does not know. Both options are impossible unless A and D are the same person.


Given that you have already resubmitted the paper to journal 2, and especially since the last contact you had from them about the content of your paper was a positive set of referee reports, I would just wait and see what happens.

(a) I don't think you are likely to be able to guarantee a faster process with a positive result at another journal. Withdrawing and resubmitting will just lead to delay and more confusion.

(b) Given that you've already withdrawn and resubmitted this paper to journal 2, withdrawing again might end up causing bad feelings with the editors.

(c) Journal 2 has access to the last round of positive reports. Other journals do not, and as you have experienced, getting journals to communicate with each other is complicated. I think you have the best chance of having the previous, positive reports help your case if you stick with journal 2.


You should never tell editors which referees to use, including using earlier reports, it is their job to find referees not yours. Would you conversely let journal 2 know there is already a negative report from journal 1?

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