40

Suppose I have a paper rejected from a top tier journal. The anonymous reviews highlight a number of strengths of my paper, but ultimately judge that the paper does not merit publication in that lofty journal. When I resubmit to a lower-tier journal from a different publisher - presumably after addressing some or all of the reviewer's substantive concerns - can I include the entire original reviews as part of my submission? How about including excerpts from these reviews in a cover letter?

On one hand these reviews might be seen as the property of the journal that rejected my manuscript and as part of a closed correspondence. On the other, in my role as an editor I do think everyone would be better off if we were more open about where we'd submitted and what feedback we'd received. That is useful information for an editor trying to assess the merits of a paper and decide whether to desk reject or to proceed with a full review.

I'm interested both in formal policies (I don't see any for the journals I frequent) and in general thoughts about the ethics of doing so.

Addition: To clarify, I am more interested in whether it is allowable to forward these reviews than I am in whether it is advisable to do so. The latter question depends so much on the particular circumstances that I cannot imagine a single universal answer - though it is interesting to read the thoughts of the community on this issue as well.

  • Not a definite answer, but I wouldn't dare do that. In general, you don't wanna them know that the paper was rejected elsewhere. – yo' Feb 25 '15 at 0:22
  • 3
    Sometimes -- perhaps even often -- that may be the case. But let's suppose that I don't mind them knowing the paper was rejected elsewhere. Presumably the editors of PLOS One or Scientific Reports or Science Advances know perfectly well that the Nature-length papers that they receive were previously rejected elsewhere, for example. – Corvus Feb 25 '15 at 0:53
  • 1
    Tangent to your question, but forwarding reviews has been suggested as a solution to the "tragegy of the reviewer commons" problem (e.g. cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/references/… and onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01276.x/…), and is also similar to how Peerage of Science is functioning. – fileunderwater Feb 25 '15 at 10:39
  • Some of the comments here are showing their age. This is already well-accepted practice in some fields/journals now. It is common for editors to pass along reviews from more prestigious journals to other "in-house" journals upon request. – Nicholas Mancuso Jun 8 '18 at 18:25
33

I have done this a couple of times (but not always going down in the journal hierarchy). In my cover letter I indicated that "the paper was previously submitted to [blah], but was rejected because [...]. A copy of the report can be obtained by writing to [editor name]."

The motivation for not including the copy of the report is that it keeps me honest. I can't just select the bits I like.

I have never had any problems with this approach, and I believe it to be the right thing to do. It saves editors' and referees' work.

  • 5
    +1. I'd change the wording to "For a copy of the reports, please contact [editor name]." After all, that editor might decline sharing the reports. (And the fact that your approach allows the rejecting editor to decide whether or not to share the report is a very good point!) – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Feb 25 '15 at 11:15
13

Personally, this isn't something I would do. And honestly, the transparency argument is a little bit of a non-starter unless you're also going to quote the reasons for the rejection of the paper.

Instead, I would try to take the spirit of those reviews and work them into the cover letter, in your own words, to talk about the strength and importance of the paper.

11

You certainly can but what is important for the receiving journal is to have an account of how you have revised your manuscript after rejection to improve the aspects on which it was rejected. Hence providing the reviews in full may not be the best way.

As an editor, I am very happy when I receive a re-submission that clearly states why and where it was rejected followed with such an account of revisions and also why the author believes the manuscript is now publishable. What I am looking for is some tangible evidence that the reasons for rejection has been followed up. There are of course several reasons for rejection that are easily declared such as unsuitable for the journal, or rejection from a high impact journal that rejects even what would normally be major revisions (i.e. journal does not allow anything but minor revisions).

What is not appreciated are sob stories about mistreatment even though mistakes happen. No journal publishes articles because they are sorry for the author. A focus on the scientific improvements is therefore key and providing a thorough account of revisions is a solid basis for the receiving journal to consider the manuscript for review.

  • 1
    Wholehearted agreement about the sob story thing. The last thing I need to deal with as an editor is an author who already thinks he or she is being mistreated by the world. – Corvus Feb 25 '15 at 19:59
8

In theory (in a better world) this might be a reasonable thing to do. In the world we live in, I think this is a bad idea. To start with, including rejection notices to a journal that you are hoping to get your paper accepted in just comes across as negative. Also, maybe the journal you are submitted to would be insulted that you got rejected from that other journal but are hoping to be accepted here. There are just too many downsides, and I don't see an obvious upside. Fix your paper based on the earlier reviews, and resubmit. Don't talk about those reviews.

  • This is helpful general advice, but it appears the question is asking about what is allowable, not what is advisable, so it doesn't seem to answer the question that was posed. – D.W. Feb 25 '15 at 22:55
  • @D.W. Yes, so the poster said. If people think it is not useful, I could delete it. – Faheem Mitha Feb 25 '15 at 23:25
7

I see no reason why it wouldn't be allowed to include previous review reports unless the original journal publisher explicitly states that all reviews are confidential and remain their property (and I have never seen this before when submitting papers). Similarly, as a reviewer, I have never ticked a box stating that the publisher retains copyright of my review reports.

For a single case example: I have submitted previous reviews when resubmitting to a different journal (my field is ecology). However, I didn't cherry-pick selected bits, but included the full report with all my responses.

The manuscript was accepted by the second journal. I'm not sure whether they even read the previous reviews or whether it influenced their decision, but I can assure you that it didn't do any harm in my case (the manuscript was accepted, after all).

However, the circumstances of this submission were very specific, so I'm not sure this advice applies to the majority of other scenarios.

In my instance, I received positive reviews from the anonymous reviewers at the first journal, but the manuscript was rejected by the handling editor because it was supposedly too complex for the broad readership of that specific journal (not because of any inherent flaws in the research itself). At first, my co-authors and I appealed this decision (after asking the Editor in Chief for permission to do so) and resubmitted a revised manuscript in which we (a) tried to make it more accessible for a general audience and (b) corrected all the minor issues raised by the reviewers. Included in this resubmission, was a detailed (>15 pages) response letter to the first round of review. Unfortunately, even though the manuscript was reassigned to a different handling editor, it was rejected again.

When I resubmitted to a different journal, I didn't have to change anything in the manuscript (the minor issues were already rectified). I also had a long, detailed response letter, which I just added as a 'additional file not for publication' in the online submission platform (as one would add related unpublished works for additional background).

Some extra notes:

  • In my field, ecology, there is a general understanding that most papers have been rejected previously before they are eventually accepted (examples: here, here and here). Perhaps being rejected previously has less of a stigma than in other fields?
  • The second journal in my experience actually had a higher impact factor than the first, which was older and, therefore, considered more prestigious (hence my decision to submit there first).
  • In my case, the reviewer at the first journal signed his review report (and was positive about the submission). I knew that he was on the editorial board at the second journal, hence my motivation to disclose why the manuscript was rejected previously.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, I included the ENTIRE review report, not just the few parts that were positive. I would not advise this strategy if you receive negative reviews, obviously.
2

Whether it is allowable to submit previous reviews depends, in my opinion, on whether the reviews were anonymous. With anonymous reviews I see no ethical problem: these reviews are supposed to be written by professionals impartially assessing your work. As such these are pure pieces of scientific knowledge and rather than sink into oblivion in your mailbox they could be used to inform other people as well.

If a review is signed, I would approach the referee if he or she does not have objections. If they do not respond, I think it is allowable to submit the review if only it can be fully impersonated just by removing the signature. For example, if the referee quotes many papers of their own (or solely those papers) and then sign his/her name, I would not submit such a review.

The reason for respecting privacy of the referee is that this referee may have views that run counter to his or her boss. So disclosing his or her attitude could harm the referee.

A special question is to whether to submit the editor's decision, which is always signed. Unlike the referee, the editor is a public figure who should bear responsibility both for papers that get published in their journal as well as for rejected ones. So I would think it is allowable to submit the editor's decision.

However, you should bear in mind that there are journals explicitly prohibiting publication of the reviews. One example is Proceedings of the Royal Society Series A: A Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. I had an argument once with the Editor-in-Chief who rejected our paper based on feedbacks of five referees three of whom were positive. I approached him with a request that I would like to post the reviews, as well as his own comments, on a blog and answer them openly. The Editor rejected firmly albeit without giving reasons. While I strongly disagree with this attitude, respecting the journal I never disclosed the reviews.

On the other hand, many journals including those of the European Geophysical Union, strive to keep the reviewing process as open as possible and some of the reviews are published while the paper is under consideration. In this case, apparently, there is no problem in submitting these reviews or linking to them in your next submissions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.