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I have seen the questions here and here, but my reasons for wishing to withdraw are utterly different than theirs, so I don't think they're especially relevant.

I work in mathematics, say in field A. In recent years, field A has found a number of interactions with another part of mathematics; call it field B. About 7 or 8 months ago I finished a project that was an application of some results from field A to a question in field B. Despite using some results from field A, the resulting paper (both in techniques and scope) was essentially purely a paper of field B, and so I submitted it for publication in a journal J from field B.

Last week, while working on a completely unrelated project in field A, I realized that the techniques I had used in the abovementioned paper can be translated, essentially word-for-word, to get some results in field A. Unfortunately these results are no longer at all in the scope of journal J, as they are really applications to field A rather than field B. Thus, I thought the right thing to do would be to withdraw the submission from journal J, merge the two results into a single paper, and then publish in a journal that lies more in the intersection of field A and field B. So a few days ago I emailed journal J to inform them of the situation and request withdrawal of my submission.

Unfortunately, I think that email has not yet arrived to the editor handling my submissions, because I have now received an email informing me that my paper has been accepted to J modulo minor revisions and enclosing two referee reports. The timing is really unfortunate; I wish I had realized the application to field A a few months ago rather than just last week.

I still think the right thing to do is to withdraw the paper. However, I feel terrible for wasting the time of the journal, and especially of the two referees, who have put a great deal of time into reviewing the paper! Is it unethical to withdraw? More generally, is it insulting to the referees? If so, what is the best way to handle this situation?

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    What do you mean "modulo revisions"? Apr 17, 2023 at 1:42
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    Just out of curiosity, if you'd published the paper first and then realised it also had applications in field A, would you feel these new results deserved a new paper, separate from the one you already published? If so they might deserve a new paper anyway.
    – N. Virgo
    Apr 17, 2023 at 10:08
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    Your current paper was obviously good enough to publish on its own, why do you think adding new observations is necessary? Are the new observations not sufficient in scope for a paper of their own? What wold you have done with these observations if you had made them after the first paper was published? Apr 17, 2023 at 15:45
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    @AzorAhai this is mathematics slang, see here.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 17, 2023 at 16:03
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    I agree with @AzorAhai-him- that the math jargon is a little opaque to people outside mathematics. I would recommend editing it out of the title because this Q and A might be valuable to people outside math that will be confused by the use of the term modulo
    – qdread
    Apr 18, 2023 at 16:01

2 Answers 2

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The paper is yours until you release it to a publisher. But, I suggest that you consider what is best for the advancement of understanding, rather than the wishes of a particular publisher.

However, it might be best on all accounts if you let the current paper be published by this publisher and write a follow up paper, referencing the current one as needed.

The reason behind this suggestion is that the current paper is relevant, I hope, to those in field B, and they might benefit from seeing it and might not if it is published elsewhere.

You might have additional work to do, however, to achieve sufficient distinction between two papers to have them both published.

But, think of how best to advance scholarship, not the economics of a particular outlet.

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    That might be a good short term solution so that you don't get scooped on the ideas. But longer term, you might think about extending to a full paper for field A.
    – Buffy
    Apr 16, 2023 at 14:49
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    exactly my gut feeling after reading the post.
    – Walter
    Apr 16, 2023 at 17:37
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    On a side note, for OP personally it might also be better to have two papers instead of just one. There are issues with salami-slicing results but this seems to be a case where having two distinct papers is justified.
    – quarague
    Apr 17, 2023 at 0:03
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    @PaperWithdrawer If field A journals and field B journals don't overlap much, having separate publications saying "you can use technique X for A/B" seems justified, as the intended audience wouldn't be otherwise aware -- especially if it's not immediately obvious that the results generalize. (Which is likely the case if you, the expert, didn't realize it until after submission.) If it feels too much like salami slicing, you can always go more "in depth" in the field A publication, looking at corollaries and special cases which might be A-specific.
    – R.M.
    Apr 17, 2023 at 17:00
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    @PaperWithdrawer There's a huge difference between intentional "salami publishing" of several papers in a row and actually realizing there was more to this one paper after submission. Plus, you might want to check if there's a journal in field A that accepts short publications (sometimes called "letters" or "communications"), maybe that's an option?
    – Sabine
    Apr 17, 2023 at 18:11
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"I used research already known/published in field B to show that it works really well/is useful in field A" is, on its own, a very important (albeit arguably not innovative) paper to publish, separate to "Look at this method/theorem in field B".

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