R&R question

Someone asked me an interesting question about revise and resubmits the other day. If a philosopher, call them X, submits a paper to journal Y, and the editors return a revise & resubmit assessment, what obligations is X under. Obviously X doesn’t have to resubmit the paper to Y. But should X regard the paper as still under submission at Y? If so, X is obliged to either formally withdraw the paper from Y or not submit the paper elsewhere.

I think the answer is no, that once the editors have returned a submission, the paper is no longer under submission. X may resubmit the paper to that journal, but that would be a new submission. (As the wording ‘resubmission’ suggests.) So it’s OK to send the paper to a new journal without informing Y. But I can see a counter. At some journals (including, perhaps, one or two that I edit), R&R’s are such a crucial part of the editorial process, that one could regard them as moves in the process of considering a paper. In that case, the submission would still be active, and X would be obliged to not submit the paper elsewhere without formally withdrawing it from Y.

What do you think?

6 Replies to “R&R question”

  1. Good question. My instinct is to say that X’s paper is not under submission at Y. There are only two situations in which you are not at liberty to submit a paper wherever you please: (1) it’s currently being reviewed by a journal, and (2) it’s been accepted for publication. Doubtless, journal editors and staff might wish to know which of the papers that received an R+R verdict are likely to come back in a revised version, and it would be kind for authors to reply to R+R letters indicating whether they plan to respond to it. But I can’t see that authors are under any obligation either not to submit papers elsewhere or to inform the editors of their intentions. And if an editor got steamed at an author for submitting the paper elsewhere, I don’t see that the editor has grounds for complaint. (Let me add that for a journal I help to edit, I’ve asked authors in revise and resubmit letters if they intend to submit a revision.)

    That being said, perhaps this could be an avenue to decode the often cryptic or ambiguous revise and resubmit letters. I’ve often felt that it’s hard to figure out exactly how interested a journal is based on a R+R letter. Perhaps journals could say to authors “we’d be interested in receiving a revised version, and we hope you won’t consider another venue in the interim” to indicate a stronger level of interest, and “we’d be interested in receiving a revised version” to indicate a weaker level of interest.

  2. Without a widely understood set of conventions that a paper that gets a revise and resubmit is still in some sense submitted, I can’t see how an author is under any obligation to consider it still submitted at a journal. We should remember that it is a somewhat local convention that papers are not submitted to more than one journal at a time in our field. Law, for example doesn’t have this rule. FWIW, I do think the current convention barring multiple submissions is the only reasonable one given the amount of refereeing that there already is to do. So I’m not suggesting we do away with that.

    But I’d be pretty skeptical about introducing the convention that papers with invited R&Rs are still submitted. (There pretty clearly aren’t such conventions now.) Maybe it would make editors lives easier. But referees are more often than not left in the dark by the editors about the status of a paper they make comments on until they get a request to review the resubmitted paper once it is resubmitted, so it isn’t going to change their lives much. Ethics and Phil Quarterly generally let referees know what they tell authors, but most journals in my experience seem to give referees little feedback.

  3. I agree with the general sentiment so far: if a journal sends me a revise and resubmit letter, they have rejected my paper and are encouraging me to resubmit it. That is all. I have no obligation here. I can send the paper elsewhere.

    Somewhat different is the conditional acceptance: paper accepted conditional on satisfactorily meeting referee’s concerns. In this case I think I would have to withdraw the paper if I wanted to submit it elsewhere.

  4. Interestingly, Kluwer journals seem to give you the option of electronically “declining to resubmit”, which at least gives the impression of things still being under submission until you press the button…

  5. I agree that a paper receiving a “revise and resubmit” decision is no longer under submission, that the author is free to submit it elsewhere, that it’s nice for journals to indicate their interest in publishing an adequately revised paper, and that it would be nice for authors to indicate their interest in resubmitting or their intention not to. But the following should be taken into account.

    R+R decisions are, or ought to be, accompanied by substantial comments, both critical and constructive. If you get such comments along with an encouraging letter, the editor has expressed genuine interest and presumably has made clear what needs to be done for the paper to be published in that journal. And the referees and/or the editor have put serious time and effort into helping you make the paper better. So you owe them something. (I’m assuming, of course, that you find the comments genuinely helpful, not petty, confused, or downright hostile, and that you’re not being jerked around.) It wouldn’t be cool to take these comments into account in revising the paper and then publish elsewhere, either with thanks to anonymous referees for the original journal or without an acknowledgment of them at all.

    Sometimes people get an R+R from one journal and then send the original paper to another journal. I know this, because four or five times I’ve been asked to referee the same paper first by one journal and later by another (in one case by yet a third journal). This raises a different question. Assuming one should not referee the same paper for two different journals, having rejected it or given it an R+R the first time, how should one explain one’s refusal to referee it the second time? Should one tell the editor that one has previously refereed it for another journal? Or should one let the editor innocently wish it on another unsuspecting referee?

  6. With the journal I edit (the Journal of Moral Philosophy), we treat R&R articles as live submissions. That is, if the author wanted to re-submit the piece after making appropriate revisions, we would normally expedite a brief review (normally with original referee or two). However, authors are under no obligation to re-submit only to us: they may certainly send their papers elsewhere instead. I do ask authors to let me know their intentions so I can prepare the ground for an expedited review, but they need not.

    I think that’s probably the best way of going about it. If authors submit a piece, then they should be interested in having the piece in the journal and normal expectations should be that some revisions are required for any pieces found publishable these days. Thus, we can expect authors to resubmit R&R work, but then again I don’t see any strong obligation for those authors who don’t want to revise their pieces. I wouldn’t avoid making revisions in the hope of trying my luck elsewhere myself, but see nothing wrong with people who do—-even if I think journals are on stand-by for R&R expedited reviews.

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