Can I Withdraw a Research Paper after a Publisher Has Accepted It?

Can I Withdraw a Research Paper after a Publisher Has Accepted It?
Generally speaking, the goal of an academic or scientist who submits a research paper to a journal is to have the paper published in that journal, so withdrawing a manuscript after an editor has accepted it for publication is rare. Withdrawing a paper after it has been accepted is also a practice cloaked in ethical concerns and the soundest advice is to consider or pursue it only when absolutely necessary. In the following notes I discuss situations in which withdrawing an accepted paper may be a reasonable option, as well as scenarios in which it would not be appropriate.

A primary consideration is exactly where the manuscript is in the publication process and particularly in relation to the editor’s acceptance of the paper. If an editor has sent you a formal acceptance and you have responded with every intention of going through with publication, your commitment is firmer than it is, say, if you have received a letter from the editor informing you that the journal would be delighted to accept the manuscript as soon as the revisions specified by the peer reviewers have been completed. You may not be willing or able to make the necessary changes, in which case you are entirely within your rights as an author to decline the opportunity to revise for publication, but it is best if your reasons are based on preserving the validity and integrity of your research and are clearly communicated to the editor in a professional manner.
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Remember that simply submitting a manuscript for publication is an agreement of sorts, with you agreeing to publication if the editor accepts the work, so it is essential to present a clear and compelling argument for why you must withdraw a paper that has already been accepted. If the practices of the journal do not live up to the claims on the website or unanticipated fees are requested, withdrawing your paper might be appropriate, and the same would be the case if you discovered serious flaws in the research you conducted or noticed that your methods do not conform to the ethical codes of the journal. Such problems should have been resolved long before submitting the manuscript, of course, but it is better to withdraw a paper than to allow a publication that may misinform readers and harm your professional reputation. The recent publication of new research that casts doubt on the ways in which you analysed, interpreted or obtained the results presented in your manuscript could be another valid reason for withdrawal, but the required changes must be significant enough to justify withdrawing an accepted paper. Changes to incorporate new research and resolve problems can usually be made after acceptance and often even after pre-publication or early online publication, so the decision to withdraw the paper altogether should only be made when there are no effective options.

Withdrawing a manuscript because a more influential journal has shown an interest is a good example of an inappropriate and unethical reason to withdraw an accepted paper, and so is withdrawal because you have learned from the reviewer reports that your paper is more important than you thought and would be publishable in a more prestigious journal. Keep in mind that multiple submissions are almost always unacceptable when seeking publication for academic and scientific manuscripts, and the time and effort of editors and reviewers are belittled and wasted by exploiting the situation in this way. However, authors do have the final responsibility for what they write and publish, and there may be situations in which withdrawing an accepted manuscript to submit it to a more appropriate journal is vital to ensure that valuable information will reach the right readers and researchers. If you believe this is the case with your work, write to the editor, explain the situation clearly and request permission to withdraw your paper for submission elsewhere, but remember that a confirmation of withdrawal is necessary before proceeding with your publication plans if you wish to avoid repercussions, and even so there may be extra fees to pay and the editor is likely to be less than eager to consider submissions from you in the future.

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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.

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