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Dealing with dual submission and publication

Authors | Research integrity
Dealing with dual submission and publication

This post addresses some of the issues surrounding dual publication and dual submission. Why is it a problem? How does it happen? And most importantly, what are the alternatives?

Journals generally only allow one formal version of each paper, to ensure that research articles are a useful record of academic work. To avoid such dual publication from happening, most publishers disallow dual submission and ask you to send each manuscript to one journal at a time.

The problem with dual publication

When the same article appears in different journals, it introduces a range of problems. First of all, the authors’ publication record now includes misleading information. Their one paper is being counted as two separate papers and it wouldn’t be clear to other researchers which version is the preferred version to cite. 

More serious issues arise when someone runs a meta-analysis of the published literature and includes the same experimental results twice as a result of them appearing in two separate publications. That overrepresents that particular piece of data in systematic review analyses, which could have consequences for patient treatment and further research.

There are implications for the journals as well. For example, having a previously published paper appear in a second journal can be a breach of copyright if the authors have signed over the rights to the first journal. Another issue is that once a dual publication is caught at least one of the articles usually needs to be retracted. The blog Retraction Watch has reported on some of the retractions that happened as a result of dual publication. These retractions may not only involve situations where an identical manuscript was sent to two different places, but also cases where the same results were included in different manuscripts, or where papers were submitted in different languages to different journals.

Avoiding dual submissions

To avoid dual publication, many journals have a guideline in place to discourage dual submissions — including Hindawi. This started in 1969, when Franz Ingelfinger wrote a policy for the New England Journal of Medicine stating that the journal would only accept submissions that had not been submitted or published elsewhere. Since then, many other journals have also adopted this “Ingelfinger Rule”.

Despite this policy, dual submissions still happen. They often get caught by reviewers or editors who were assigned to the manuscript at both journals, or by plagiarism checking software. When notified in time, editors will reject the manuscript and remind the authors of the policy against dual submission, and even inform the authors’ institutions, but sometimes these incidents can be more complicated — the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has advised on several of these situations.

Just like dual publication, dual submissions take up publisher time and resources that could have been used to work on other manuscripts. Editors and reviewers at one of the journals will have wasted time working on an article they can never publish. In these simultaneous submissions authors also often ignore critical reviewer comments from journals they don’t end up publishing with.

In many cases, researchers may not have known that it wasn’t appropriate to send the same manuscript out to multiple places at once, especially if it was their first paper. Maybe they were hoping to speed up the publishing process and get a paper out as soon as possible. Or they were hedging their bets and hoping to be able to get accepted for publication at their favorite journal, even though they knew the paper was a better fit elsewhere. Or perhaps they thought that sending out the same manuscript in different languages would get their work noticed by more people, or didn’t realize that they couldn’t include the same results in two otherwise different papers.

Wanting faster publication, reaching international audiences or referring to the same data for different studies are all valid concerns, but the solution is not to submit to multiple journals at once. Instead, there are ways to handle all of these challenges.

Alternatives to dual submissions

Many publishers now allow you to deposit the submitted manuscript to a preprint server. This version has not gone through peer review and hasn’t been edited or formatted by the publishers. But it does allow you to share your paper with the world as soon as you’re ready to submit. Even if it takes a year to finally get the peer-reviewed version published, and even if you want to try your luck at a more selective journal, your colleagues will have been able to read the original manuscript. 

Preprints are more common in certain areas of research than others. The preprint server arXiv has been a mainstay of the mathematics and physics communities since 1991, but other fields are now rapidly catching up. For some publishers, the adoption of preprints has meant refining the language of their dual publication policy, because the original Ingelfinger Rule seems to discourage it (of course, he wrote it in an era long before online publication was the norm). 

Now, many policies specifically state that they will still consider a manuscript for publication if the authors have uploaded an unreviewed preprint, just like they would allow you to publish a paper after you’ve given a conference talk about the topic. To find out the preprint policy of a particular publication check the SHERPA/RoMEO database, which lists publisher and journal policies on self-archiving of manuscripts.

When you’re working on two different manuscripts that use the same dataset, or if you would like your article to be available in different languages, always let the editors know about your plans, and they can help you find a way to achieve these goals. Sometimes the solution is to publish a paper together with a translation, or to publish two closely related papers back-to-back. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has a list of criteria of situations where secondary publications could be acceptable and their first point is to get approval from the editors.

Ultimately, there’s no need to send out the same manuscript to multiple journals at once. It’s against most publishers’ policies and will only cause delays or even retractions. The best thing to do is to be transparent when communicating with your editors, post a preprint when you can, and make sure that your colleagues are all aware of policies preventing dual submission and publication.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Hindawi. The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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