Q: Should I just withdraw my paper if the journal is unresponsive?

Detailed Question -

I submitted a paper on August 20 last year. The average time from submission to acceptance is about 41 days per the journal. On October 17, I received an email from the online system asking me to hide all the names in the paper. I did, and directly [re]submitted it. Since then, the status has been ‘In Review,’ although the date has changed several times (the last update being January 24, 2021).

I have emailed the journal about the status since early January, but haven’t received a reply. I have also emailed the EIC, the AE, and the EC, but have not received a reply. I feel anxious about this as I really need this for my PhD. Should I just withdraw the manuscript? What should I do?

1 Answer to this question

We can understand your anxiety. Five months since submission and three months under review is a relatively long time for the manuscript, especially for a journal that promises acceptance within 1.5 months of submission (depending, of course, on the quality of the manuscript). Some allowance can be made for the holiday season, but that would be for recently, not for when you submitted the manuscript, including the ‘redacted’ version. [For echoes with a similar situation faced by a previous researcher, you may refer to this query: Should I withdraw my paper if the journal is taking unusually long to process?]

Now, you haven’t provided a timeline for your PhD nor mentioned which journal this is. So, you would be the best to take a call, probably along with your supervisor. However, we will make a few suggestions.

  • Send another mail to the journal informing them of the urgency of your situation. Include all the necessary profiles mentioned above, if needed. Also ask them whether the delay is likely to prevail (perhaps due to challenges with the reviewer/s), and therefore, whether you should consider withdrawing from them. Do this like you are seeking their advice, rather than as something you are intending.
  • You may decide your next steps based on their response. In case they (none of them) responds, you may send another mail stating that you are considering the manuscript withdrawn as you haven’t heard from them. Don’t worry, it’s standard – and recommended – practice to do this. [For more, you may refer to this earlier query by another similarly beleaguered researcher: What can I do if the editor does not confirm my withdrawal request?]
  • Send out presubmission inquiries to other journals. Inform them of the situation and gauge their readiness to review and publish faster. Do this along with the next mail to the present journal.

For all these actions, we foresee a considerable amount of mails. So, you may wish to invest in this handbook: A practical handbook of templates for communicating with the journal

Note: The handbook is available from one of our sister brands, R Upskill, which offers a whole range of courses for a variety of researcher needs. The handbook includes templates for some of the scenarios discussed here (such as delays on the journal side and withdrawal), so do check it out.

Hope that helps. All the best for your next actions!