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I recently began the submission process at a few potential journals for my paper to verify the process / requirements. Having not submitted these yet, the journals seem to be very concerned with these partial submissions - I started 3 weeks ago - sending me auto-emails like:

Further to our two previous e-mail messages concerning your partially submitted paper, please be advised that your manuscript "Unknown Title", with the manuscript number XXXX-XX-XXXXX may be withdrawn from further consideration for publication in the journal.

I'm curious why they seem so urgent? My best guess is that they want to clear out user files from their servers?

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    Just guessing, but they may be very concerned with avoiding a situation where a super busy, middle-aged professor who's unfamiliar with tech forgets to actually complete a submission, and then complains later that the reviewing process is taking too long.
    – knzhou
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 5:07
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    This is probably partly because beginning the submission process at "a few potential journals" to "verify the process / requirements" is not the usual or expected thing to do. You're expected to pick one journal, tailor your submission to that journal and submit there, and wait for a decision before moving on to the next one. If you actually submitted a manuscript to more than one journal that's very bad and you should withdraw immediately.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 13:31
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    I hope you understand that submitting one paper to "a few" journals simultaneously is a violation.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 13:31
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    What, exactly, was "partial about your submission(s). An incomplete paper or just not providing all required information initially?
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 13:32
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    I am not submitting to multiple journals, obviously. IME journals' Guide for Authors are sometimes inconsistent (i.e. out of date) with the requirements in the submission portal, so I verify these requirements using dummy partial submissions, with dummy text where required to let me click through all steps without actually submitting. Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 19:12

3 Answers 3

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This is almost certainly an auto-generated email. The system is probably set up to automatically delete inactive submissions after some time. I'm sure that no-one is actually checking or interacting with this system.

Journals (or at least the people who designed their back end systems) don't want empty or partial submissions to fill up. It sounds crazy but over years and years, that's a lot of wasted storage and database bloat. It just isn't good practice to leave those sorts of things lying around from a systems perspective - it's messy. Whether it's old inactive accounts, or partially finished submissions, they need to be cleaned up.

There is also the customer service aspect, you want people to remember to actually submit. I'm sure there are plenty of people who think they finished a submission but didn't. Or start a submission and forget about it.

Then there is the financial aspect. They make money off of publishing - whether through APCs or through subscriptions. For most journals (especially open access), high volumes of submissions means more papers published which means more money. This is even true for journals with low acceptance rates and presumably high standards. They they want those manuscripts before their competitors. That's how you nab the "high impact" stuff.

It isn't any different than an online store emailing you to "check out" when you left an item in your cart. Or any other online thing reminding you to finished whatever it is you started or come back to an unused social media account. I'm sure there is market data that shows some % of those annoying emails do convert people to active users/customers/whatever.

As for why you're getting these emails after only a couple of weeks, well someone decided that that was the timeline the journal wanted. They probably paid a consulting company for some market data that showed x emails over y weeks results in z% of dead submissions being converted.

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  • Database bloat is a huge problem. If I were IT I would want every submission to go through the whole process or be deleted from the database, otherwise future searches of the database could return a lot of useless partial submissions that make it hard to find the desired articles - accepted or rejected. Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 4:07
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    All pretty correct. Except for market data - I've seen how these things are usually built, it's either "you're the IT guys, do it", or "two weeks sounds good".
    – Therac
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 4:26
  • @ToddWilcox partial submissions can easily be filtered out, that's not a problem at all.
    – justhalf
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 5:24
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Some ideas:

As a commenter suggested, they may be worried that they'll be blamed for an incomplete submission and want to avoid errors and not leave any possibility that someone thinks their paper is being reviewed who might later accuse them of losing their submission or just being slow.

Their business model is selling processing fees to authors, so a partial submission reflects a missed revenue opportunity just like an online shopping cart with an item that hasn't been through checkout.

A combination of the previous and their nervousness that you'll go to a less predatory competitor next.

The people designing the submission software thought this would be an important feature based on their experience designing other systems and the people at the journal don't really have any interaction with it and the system just spits out these notices by default.

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    I find it amusing that now "incomplete submission=missed revenue opportunity" sounds normal. So 30 years ago people would not even note the connection.
    – yarchik
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 14:40
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    @yarchik I find it depressing.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 2:01
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    If only they would send coupons when you leave the incomplete submission in for too long Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 3:39
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I'll add one more speculation to the mix.

Paper submission is supposed to be a straightforward process*: you provide a copy of the manuscript and some metadata (title, authors, keywords, ...), suggest some reviewers, and maybe upload a short cover letter. If you have a complete draft of your paper, you should be able to complete the submission in a short amount of time - substantially less than an hour. Sure, you might get interrupted and need to come back tomorrow to finish the job. But this isn't something that people are expected to be working on for an extended period.

If people are fiddling with their submission over an extended period, what does that mean? Probably, it indicates that they started the 'submission' process without having a completed paper. This is undesirable from the journal's perspective: it increases the chances that some of the metadata, or even the manuscript file itself, are incorrect (because the author set it early in the process and then forgot to update it), or that the paper is a poor match for the journal (because it evolved to have a different focus from what the author originally expected).

As a result, there is an advantage to having a fairly robust policy in respect of deleting manuscripts that have been around for a while without being submitted - and little cost to doing so (as authors can always start afresh).


* OK, some journals make it difficult. But it's supposed to be straightforward.

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    Some journals make it the worst nightmare, with strict LaTeX format templates even for initial submission, online LaTeX compilation, copyright transfer forms, conflict-of-interest statements of all authors, structured reporting forms for methods, materials and statistical analyses, license requirements for all previously published material, plagiarism checks, ..., accepting overlength fees without knowing the final printed number of pages, sometimes even submission fees. I never experienced anything close to "straightforward".
    – bers
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 21:49

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