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I submitted a journal article to Forum: Qualitative Sozialforschung/ Forum: Qualitative Social Research back in September-October 2016. By February 2017, I received an R&R. April 2017, official acceptance. We were in the midst of the final edits, but I couldn't fully understand the editing requests of the editor. She threw the broad recommendations at me to "fix references" and to "improve readability". But even though I adhered and responded to all the specific queries/comments marked by reviewers throughout the paper and went through the paper multiple rounds after, the editor still wasn't satisfied. She snarked at me telling me she was "repeating herself now", and refused to read my paper in-depth until I'd made the appropriate changes. I apologized several times, but at this point, whatever responses/comments I'd written in the paper itself I now had to email directly to her or she wouldn't see them. I noticed in the edits she'd misunderstood some italicized words for a quote, so I kindly brought up that my italics were actually for emphasis and not quotation. I then asked her to simply identify which sections didn't look right or "readable", and I'd be most happy to edit it. Immediately after, she straight-out told me she decided not to publish my article, because she felt attacked by what I asked and because I had one reference that didn't conform to her guidelines (I wrote "trans." for translation rather than "transl by."). This happened this week in June 2017. I feel like I had a lot of my time wasted, and it feels unfair to have my article rejected AFTER acceptance. And even more so because the rejection wasn't for the quality of my paper nor the fit of my article, but because of a personal grievance of hers about something that I didn't even do, and a citation detail that doesn't really seem significant. Is recanting an acceptance this close to the finish line ethical? Can an editor decide this without consulting any of the reviewers or editorial board? I understand I made some mistakes, but they were just references and some issue with "readability" that I didn't understand, which is why I simply asked -- were these really so serious that an editor could justifiably do what she did? How should I respond? 

Edit: I should add the readability issue is related to a language barrier, as the Editor was not a native English speaker. I've published a lot over my career in reputable journals, so I'm fairly confident my writing's fine.

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    I did not read your paper. Even I did, I won't be able to understand since I am not in your field. However, I am reviewing this question as this is the first post you write on this site and I am supposed to provide some comment and the comment I really want to give is "Please improve readability" because it's wall of texts. – scaaahu Jun 5 '17 at 3:52
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    February 2017, I received an R&R. April 2017, official acceptance. It's a bit dependent on the culture of one's field but R&R is not identical to acceptance and commitment to publish... / but some of the rest sounds like some pretty troubling standards for publication. – virmaior Jun 5 '17 at 5:23
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    If your paper is written like your post here, I can sympathize a bit with the editor. Perhaps, some colleague with good written language skills can give you some help improving your text? – Walter Jun 5 '17 at 8:52
  • @scaaahu and Walter, if any article is that much of an issue for a journal to begin with, then it shouldn't have been accepted in the first place? My point isn't about writing, but the ethics of retracting an accept. Authors shouldn't simultaneously submit to multiple journals, because it'd waste reviewers' time editing for something that won't be published in their journal. Shouldn't editors be discouraged from retracting an accept months after the fact for the same reason? – brightskies Jun 5 '17 at 11:11
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    Okay, rejecting after acceptance is unusual and perhaps unethical. But so is asking the authors for edits after acceptance. It appears this is a dodgy journal. – Walter Jun 5 '17 at 11:42
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My take is that you cannot really know what is going on at the journal. Your role is to try and produce the best possible content for your academic article and accept the decisions of the journal.

It does sound quite unusual - usually an acceptance means that it is accepted, period. You could try going down the official complaints route but I wouldn't recommend it. Editors have a lot of power.

I would suggest finding another journal for your paper. Yes it will take some time but ultimately it will end up in a better place. Perhaps the reviews from another journal will further improve the paper.

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The process is unusual for sure, but without seeing the reviews and what exactly the editor and you wrote to each other, I can't say that it is unethical. The acceptance of the article may, for example, have been conditional on improving language issues. This may or may not also have been stated in the reviews that suggested acceptance "subject to improving the presentation" or similar wording.

In the end, what you describe is an editor deciding that this improvement in presentation or language is apparently not forthcoming, and so the conditional acceptance was turned into a rejection. I'll note that you state: "And even more so because the rejection wasn't for the quality of my paper nor the fit of my article...", but that is exactly what it sounds like: the quality of a paper is not only a function of its scientific contribution and originality, but also its organization and ability to convey its meaning accurately. I have certainly rejected papers that may have had sufficient content for publication but were written in a way that made it impossible to understand or follow the arguments.

Obviously, I cannot say whether that is what happened. We lack the information for this. But in the end, I do believe that it is upon the author to present the material in such a way that it is understandable. Papers that fail to do so, even if their content is good, should be rejected.

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I don't see any question of ethics.
"Is it normal?";
"Is it polite?"; "Is it necessary?"

These and the like are all very good questions. An appointed editor made an editorial decision based upon the revision process. I don't see any ethical issues

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    It is one thing to reject after asking for changes and then not being satisfied with them. Here, it was officially accepted, then rejected after edit. I wouldn't call this an ethical issue, but neither would I say it's as simple as you make it out to be. – Fred Douglis Jun 5 '17 at 21:57
  • @FredDouglis -- Hence "Is it normal?" – Scott Seidman Jun 5 '17 at 22:02
  • Scott, I agree with rephrasing as "Is it normal". I disagree with the summary "An appointed editor made an editorial decision based upon the revision process". – Fred Douglis Jun 5 '17 at 22:03

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