Multiple Submissions: What They Are and Why You Must Avoid Them

Never submit to multiple journals at the same time

You’ve done great research. You’ve edited the scientific language to perfection. Now it’s time to find the journal that can give it the highest impact and as soon as possible. Hey, why not try two or three?

Stop!

Don’t even think about submitting to more than one journal. That’s called multiple submissions, or simultaneous submissions, and it’s against the rules.

Multiple submission is when you try to submit your research paper to more than one publisher to raise your chances of getting published. Scientific publication doesn’t tolerate that, but it may be hard to know why.

It may seem rational to shop your work around to the highest bidder, but in academic research, it’s forbidden and dangerous to your reputation and career.

Let’s clear it up and clarify why submitting the same, or very similar work, to multiple journals is not only an unethical mistake, it’s a potential career-killer.

What is multiple submission?

Other names: redundant submission, duplicate submission, simultaneous submission

Multiple submission is sending your manuscript to more than one journal at a time in the hope that one will publish it. You’re not legally permitted to sign over the copyright of your work to more than one publisher.

Moreover, if it happens, and you get overlapping publications or duplication publications, both may be retracted and you may find you’ve violated the law.

OK, that’s pretty scary. But when a research is working under a high-pressure “publish or perish” environment, demanding x number of publications, it may still be tempting. In rare cases, too, researchers simply don’t know the rules. 

What’s wrong with shopping your research to find the best offer?

If you were selling a used car, you certainly wouldn’t advertise it to one person, right? So, offering your manuscript to multiple journals in search of the highest impact or fastest publication offer may seem logical.

But would that logic work for a wedding proposal? Unlikely! If two accept, you’re really in a bind. You must declare your love and devotion to one partner.

It’s the same with your target journal. Make sure it’s your soulmate.

Submitting to a journal implies you entrust your work to that one publication. If that publication is interested, it will cement your relationship. Then, after peer review, when the journal accepts your work for publication, you sign over the copyright and it’s no longer your property.

The simple rule is: Never submit your work to more than one journal at a time.

What other experts say on multiple submission

Don’t believe us? Here are a few more views:

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)

“Authors should not submit the same manuscript, in the same or different languages, simultaneously to more than one journal. The rationale for this standard is the potential for disagreement when two (or more) journals claim the right to publish a manuscript that has been submitted simultaneously to more than one journal, and the possibility that two or more journals will unknowingly and unnecessarily undertake the work of peer review, edit the same manuscript, and publish the same article.” –ICMJE (source)

Elsevier

“Articles submitted for publication must be original and must not have been submitted to any other publication. Except in very unusual circumstances (and then only with your agreement as the editor), authors are expected to submit articles that are original and have not been submitted to any other publication.” –Elsevier (source)

Springer Nature

“It is unethical to submit the same manuscript to more than one journal at the same time. Doing this wastes the time of editors and peer reviewers, and can damage the reputation of the authors and the journals if published in more than one journal as the later publication will have to be retracted.” –Springer Nature (source)

Expert oversight

Publishers also typically defer to authorities such as the ICMJE and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

What are the harms of duplicate submission/multiple submission?

So we know that it is widely considered unethical to submit a manuscript to multiple journals at the same time. But why is this the case? Many reasons.

You may break the law

If two journals agree at roughly the same time to publish your study, which of them will hold the copyright?

Signing a transfer of copyright can only happen once. Then the manuscript become the publisher’s property (that’s why self-plagiarism occurs: you can’t cite what isn’t rightfully yours). That’s not robbery either. The journal is providing its valuable forum to showcase your literature.

Wasted time and resources

Having your draft manuscript go through redundant peer review is obviously a waste of valuable and limited resource. The scientific community functions and self-regulates on the strength of unpaid peer review.

If the human gatekeepers don’t catch your simultaneous submissions, the electronic ones will

It can be nearly impossible for journals and peer reviewers to know if you’re being straight with them. They take you on your word. They assume you know your ethics.

If you don’t know your ethics or you choose to try and hack the system, anti-plagiarism software solutions such CrossCheck, Turnitin, and iThenticate are getting better in leaps and bounds.

Their algorithms and machine learning are increasingly robust and intuitive. They’ll easily catch multiple publications. Then you’re looking at legal actions along with retractions and future consequences with that black mark on your record.

never submit to multiple journals – multiple submission

Redundant/repeat “evidence” and literature distortion

Another reason multiple submission is so devious is that repeated evidence in the literature will bias the overall evidence. This is because a study may be counted more than once in meta-analyses.

Such analyses pool all available data to calculate an overall effect. Even if you’ve done good research and not salami-sliced it, it’s not worth double credit!

Leopold (2013) notes the importance of such analyses in health policy and in making decisions on medicine. Repeatedly published studies may create an artificial inflation of the treatment effect size.

Violates readers’ trust

The same study by Leopold (2013) notes that journal subscribers are paying for originality. If the same study makes it to print twice, then that assumption is violated. Even if the research is open access and there is no price to read it, it still violates the expectations that peer reviewed research is unique to one publication.

So when can you submit your work to more than one journal?

Never.

But that doesn’t seem to stop some under-pressure researchers.

You can’t submit your work to more than one journal at the same time. That’s multiple submission. Aside from that basic and binary principle, there are cases that leave authors a bit confused. These usually arise at some stage of submission and peer review, and because of dysfunctional communication among the co-authors.

After rejection of your manuscript, then it’s OK

However, if you submit your manuscript to one journal and it’s rejected, then it’s OK to submit it to another journal.

If you’ve already been through peer review, and especially if you’ve made considerable revisions, you may want to take some time to refine it before you submit it. That way you’re not just working your way down the impact factor ladder. You can use this opportunity to refine your work and raise your chances for a successful submission to another journal.

That is entirely OK and it’s not multiple submission. In fact, it’s good practice.

What if you submit to a journal, but then decide you want to submit to a different one?

If you want to withdraw your submitted manuscript from one journal and submit it to a different journal, you must write to inform the editor of the first journal.

You’ll need written confirmation that your submission has been withdrawn before you go ahead and submit your work to a different journal.

Don’t assume that if you hear nothing, your original submission has been withdrawn. You need to obtain a formal notice from the first journal before you can submit your manuscript elsewhere.

An example of how this may work can be found on Elsevier. In this case, it’s quite strict and not something that can be done on whim. Elsevier’s policy only allows withdrawal at a certain stage or if there are potentially unethical or fraudulent, etc. aspects in a submission.

And be sure all the authors approve

As with submission and revisions, you always have to be sure that all the authors of a manuscript agree. This avoids any conflicts and ethically, it’s required.

If you decide to withdraw your submission, you’ll need the approval from all the co-authors. Rounding up this approval is typically the responsibility of the corresponding author.

What can journals and journal editors do about multiple submission and duplicate publication?

Not all cases are cut-and-dry examples of an identical study being published, or an attempt at publishing the same manuscript.

Look for potentially problematic cases

Some potential cases of redundant publication result from carelessness and poor communication among the authors. Those are not excusable, but it may fall on the gatekeepers (journals and editors) to weed them out.

Some borderline and debatable instances are:

  • Publication in different languages
  • A study presented from a different angle
  • Suspected salami publication (multiple studies using the same data)
  • A different co-author submits the same study
  • Text recycling and self-plagiarism

In such cases it’s best to defer to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)* guidelines. COPE offers case examples and flowcharts to follow.

Make sure your journal has clear policies

As COPE notes, the journal’s author guidelines should clearly state what the journal’s policy is on duplicate publication. Authors should verify they have not submitted or published elsewhere.

Despite this directive, many journals fail to set out clear guidelines for authors.

In an examination of 219 health-related journals, Ding et al. (2020) found 18% did not have a policy on duplicate and salami publication. Additionally, 33% only referred to generic guidelines. Only 13% of the journal examined in the study had clear policies.

The gatekeepers are not to blame for unethical and devious submission practices. But they may bear some responsibility for not clearly telling authors what’s OK and not OK. Especially when dealing with ESL/EFL authors, vague language or a lack of clear directives can be confusing.

OK I get it, but I’m in a hurry to get published!

Yes, understood. We get it.

Even after reading all this info, you still need to get published, right? You’re under pressure and you may have a deadline or quota bearing down on you.

Simply hearing “it’s bad, don’t do it” doesn’t stop us from doing a lot of things in life that we know we shouldn’t do.

Weigh the outcome against the potential consequence. If that’s still not enough, here’s some sage advice from one of our pros:

Consider the order of your priorities. If publishing fast is more important to you than the impact factor of the journal there are numerous good but low- to mid-tier impact factor (IF) journals out there that will likely give you a quick initial response.

Additionally, many journals will have an average turnaround time/time to first decision listed somewhere on their websites.

Multiple submission is a hard “no,” so if fast publication is a priority, identify journals with a lower IF that will accept manuscripts based on the rigor of scientific research and narrow down the list using the turnaround time information from the journal website, if available.

–Vishal Gor, PhD, Edanz Author Guidance Consultant

Final words on multiple submission

Despite wasting time and resources, redundant submission of the same work is an unethical and potentially illegal practice. Overlapping publication will get you in trouble.

Don’t risk it. Good communication among authors is one of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t make this potentially fatal authorship mistake. If you’re a younger research, or not sure what to do, consult with your adviser, a senior colleague, and feel free to get in touch with us for some advice.

*Edanz is an associate member of COPE.

References

Ding, D., Nguyen, B., Gebel, K., Bauman, A., Bero, L. (2020). “Duplicate and salami publication: A prevalence study of journal policies” International Journal of Epidemiology, 49(1), 281-288. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyz187

Leopold S. S. (2013). “Editorial: Duplicate submission and dual publication: what is so wrong with them?” Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 471(5), 1401-1402. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11999-013-2916-8

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