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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Article Withdrawal in Academic Publishing


Nathan Boutin, Associate Editor

October 2021

What is article withdrawal in academic publishing?

Article withdrawal is the process by which authors decide to remove their manuscript from consideration in a publishing journal. Withdrawal most often takes place during the publishing process and is not possible after the article is published. This is in contrast to article retraction, which takes place post publication and usually occurs as a result of scientific misconduct.

Withdrawal is uncommon in the scientific community, but there are many reasons why authors decide to withdraw their paper. For example, if significant errors are found in the manuscript after submission, the authors may request a withdrawal so that they can correct the mistakes, perform additional experiments, or rewrite portions of the paper. An author might decide that the journal is taking an unreasonably long time to review the paper, and withdrawal can be used to avoid simultaneous submissions (i.e., submitting to multiple journals at the same time). Furthermore, withdrawal can occur due to the paper being in violation of the journal’s publishing ethics guidelines, which can include spurious authorship claims and plagiarism.

How is an article withdrawn?

The conventional way to withdraw an article is to write a letter to the editors asking them to no longer consider the paper for publication with the appropriate reasons listed. However, some manuscript submission systems have a withdrawal function that automates this process. Alternatively, there may be a specific form to fill out and submit to the editor. Most journal websites have specific instructions for withdrawing a paper, so it is always best to review this information.

What happens to a withdrawn article?

If withdrawal is requested early in the publishing process, the article is returned by the journal and is not published either in print or online. It then becomes the “property” of the authors again to edit and submit elsewhere. In cases where the article has been posted online but not officially published or peer reviewed (i.e., preprints, or as Elsevier refers to them, “Articles in Press”), the text is usually removed and replaced with a notification of withdrawal. It is worth noting that every publisher deals with withdrawal differently, so effective communication with the journal is paramount.

Are there penalties for withdrawal?

Since there are many legitimate reasons to withdraw a paper, the consequences for doing so are usually minimal if done quickly. However, withdrawal after acceptance or during peer review can be a big problem, especially if the reasons for withdrawal are suspicious. For example, an author might submit to multiple journals and withdraw at the last minute from journals with a lower impact factor. This guarantees them a spot in only the most prestigious journal that accepts their manuscript. In such cases, deposits and fees may not be returned, and the journal may ask that the authors do not submit to the journal again. This, in turn, can earn authors a bad reputation. Regardless of the reason, it is best to ensure that the journal to which you are submitting is the right fit for all the authors to circumvent the need for withdrawal in the first place. Remember: the publishing process requires a great deal of time and labor and consuming those resources without good cause raises ethical concerns.

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