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I recently submitted my first paper to a well-known journal in the field. After about 1.5 months, the first decision was a major revision which I completed promptly and re-submitted (the decision was by a single reviewer, and of course, the editor).

After about another month the same reviewer asked for a moderate revision (also commenting that the main issue of the major revision had been satisfactorily cleared). I again acted on it quickly and re-submitted.

This new version was sent back to the same reviewer again, who, after two days, remarked to the assistant editor that they might want to get a second opinion and so the AE is looking for another reviewer.

Since it is my first attempt at publication, I'm not sure if I should be worried about it being a sign of the original reviewer realizing the work is unsuitable for the journal and wishing to get another opinion for that reason, or if there's still a good chance of eventual publication. Any similar experiences or opinions on this matter would help.

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I'd take the news at face value: now that the paper has gone through several revisions, the reviewer is unsure about the paper's suitability for that journal. It would have been better if they had predicted that from the beginning, for example, sending you a note along the lines of "after some revisions, this paper might be better suited for another journal", but they didn't. I'd take it as a good sign that they are not rejecting the paper outright. I've never had this happen to me when submitting papers, but it has happened to me as a reviewer, that of being unsure of a paper's suitability after several rounds of revisions. It's a human enterprise.

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You may have worries, but they may be misplaced. It is the editor's job to decide on suitability, not the reviewer's, though they can make recommendations. Reviewers are responsible for evaluating correctness and originality (novelty).

A more likely situation is that the reviewer suddenly had doubts about the correctness of the paper itself as might be the case in a technical field such as math. The more information that is revealed in the recent edits might cause rethinking of some issue(s).

Yes, you are at risk of rejection, but that is always the case until the editor accepts the paper.

You are free to ask the editor what the concerns might be, though you may not get much of an answer. And it is in your interest that there is a thorough review. It is what it is.

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  • Thank you for your answer. As you said, the reviewer had doubts about the correctness in the first round, hence the major revision request. The reviewer seemed satisfied with the correctness, however, in their comments after the second review
    – TRC
    Aug 18, 2023 at 14:04

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