Multiple Submissions: What are they and why are they wrong?

We know the submission process is long. Although there are several things you can do to speed up the process, one thing that many authors consider, but that should never be done, is to submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. The publishing industry refers to this practice as ‘multiple submissions.’

Faced with tight deadlines and high pressure to publish, many authors feel that if they submit their paper to several potential journals at once, and withdraw it once it gets accepted by one of their options, it can help speed up their chance at publication. They hope it will shorten the process because it will avoid several rounds of revising and resubmitting the paper after each rejection. Unfortunately, this practice can have several consequences:

Multiple Submissions

Submitting your paper to several journals in the hopes that it will eventually get accepted somewhere can cause accidental duplicate publication if your paper gets accepted at more than one journal. Once discovered, this will likely result in a retraction or withdrawal of one of the accepted papers, which can in turn harm your reputation and will have wasted the time of everyone involved in processing and reviewing the withdrawn work. 

Another important thing to remember is that multiple submissions can be easily spotted, especially if your work is in a very specialized area. Different journals may choose the same experts to act as reviewers for your paper and, if they receive the same paper from two different journals at the same time, they will flag it to the editors and both journals may immediately reject your submission. 


Good submission practice

Although it can be difficult to achieve, good submission practice starts with early preparation. The earlier you start writing, the sooner you can submit, and by allowing yourself ample time before any deadlines, following the correct protocol of submitting to one journal at a time won’t threaten your ability to meet your targets.

If at some point during the submission or peer review process you decide you would prefer to submit to another journal, you must either wait until your paper is rejected from the current journal or make a formal request for withdrawal to the journal editor (this should be in writing via email). Only once one of these things occurs can you then submit your work to another journal for consideration. Although this may be tedious, it’s important to ensure there is no overlap in work for already busy journal editors and peer reviewers, and to maintain the integrity of the literature as a whole. 

For more information on multiple submissions, duplicate publication and ethics, the ICMJE recommendations have a thorough discussion on the subject.