Reasons for withdrawing an academic article

 

Withdrawing an academic article means asking a journal to stop considering the article for publication at any point prior to its actual publication. This means that the article will no longer proceed through the peer review process, will not be published and becomes the authors’ “property” once again, to revise and/or resubmit elsewhere if desired.

 

An article can be withdrawn at any point before publication:

  • Before it has been sent out for review
  • While it is under review
  • After the peer reviewers’ comments have been received
  • Even once it has been provisionally accepted

That being said, withdrawal is relatively uncommon in academic publishing, and is generally not recommended, except for in specific circumstances that we will discuss in more detail below.

 

Legitimate reasons for withdrawing an article

There are a variety of reasons why you may wish to withdraw a paper prior to publication.

 

a. Journal delay

Sometimes, the reason for withdrawal is related to the journal itself. For example, if the journal is taking an unreasonably long time to send the paper out for review, you may wish to withdraw the paper and resubmit to another journal that will handle it more efficiently, to avoid any unnecessary delay in time to publication.

 

b. Problems in manuscript

In other cases, you may become aware of problems that were unintentionally introduced to the manuscript. For example, if you notice during the peer review process that some of the data included in the paper were reported incorrectly or analysed in a way that could be misleading, then you may wish to withdraw the paper to give your group time to recollect and reanalyse the data appropriately.

 

c. Accidental duplicate submission

A similar situation would be if you discover that the paper has accidentally been submitted to more than one journal at the same time. Perhaps there was a miscommunication between the authors, and two of them submitted the paper simultaneously to two different journals. This would be considered an accidental duplicate submission, and the paper would need to be withdrawn from one of the two journals (while of course notifying the second journal of the error).

 

d. Discovery of ethical misconduct

Finally, you may need to withdraw a paper due to ethical misconduct discovered after submission. This type of withdrawal occurs when, for example, a senior author on the paper discovers that one of the junior authors has engaged in data fraud by fabricating data that were subsequently included in the paper, or has plagiarised part of the text that they were responsible for writing. Another example would be unethical authorship practices, such as if the senior author listed his or her department head as an author on the paper in the hopes of increasing their chances of being promoted, even though the department head was not involved in any way with the study.

 

Unethical reasons for withdrawing an article

While there are many legitimate reasons for withdrawing an article, as discussed above, there are some situations in which withdrawal is considered an unethical option.

 

a. Intentional duplicate submission

Perhaps the most common example of this is a case in which a paper was intentionally submitted to more than one journal at the same time in an attempt to get the paper accepted at a journal with as high an impact factor (IF) as possible. Once the peer review reports have been received, the authors withdraw their paper from the lower IF journal(s) and only proceed with submission at the most prestigious journal that reviewed the paper favourably.

 

In this situation, of course, the authors have clearly engaged in an unethical publication practice by intentionally submitting to more than one journal at a time, and withdrawal does not erase this fact. If discovered, the paper is likely to be rejected from all of the journals that it was submitted to, so this is not an ethically acceptable practice or one that is likely to result in publication of the paper anywhere.

 

b. Revision decision with extensive comments

Another situation in which it could be considered ethically dubious to withdraw a paper would be after having received negative reviews from the peer reviewers but being allowed to revise by the journal. (This would be a “revise and resubmit” decision). Sometimes, negative comments from the reviewers can feel extensive and even unreasonable, and you may feel unable to revise the paper adequately to satisfy the reviewers. However, if the journal editor(s) agreed that this was the case, they would have rejected the paper outright instead of offering a chance to revise.

 

In this case, withdrawing your paper is not recommended because it essentially wastes the time of the editors and peer reviewers by benefitting from their comments but not pursuing the publication. In this situation, it is generally a good idea to revise as best as possible and explain clearly in your point-by-point response letter why you feel that some of the reviewers’ requests or suggestions are infeasible or inappropriate.

 

Conclusion

Withdrawing a paper can be a difficult aspect of scientific publication to navigate, and hopefully not one that you will need to face in your career. If you do need to withdraw an article, ensure that the reasons for it are legitimate.

 

To learn about the actual process for making an academic withdrawal, read: Withdrawing an academic article: Considerations and actions

 

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