Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University

: 2017  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 115--117

Withdrawal syndrome: Author's dilemma and editor's agony

Amitav Banerjee 
 Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune  -  411  018, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Amitav Banerjee
Department of Community Medicine, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune  -  411  018, Maharashtra

How to cite this article:
Banerjee A. Withdrawal syndrome: Author's dilemma and editor's agony.Med J DY Patil Univ 2017;10:115-117

How to cite this URL:
Banerjee A. Withdrawal syndrome: Author's dilemma and editor's agony. Med J DY Patil Univ [serial online] 2017 [cited 2017 Mar 24 ];10:115-117
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Full Text

We narrate below a few illustrative communications from authors and the editor's replies to highlight the author's dilemma and editor's agony due to withdrawal of a paper just before publication.

Author 1: “Please (sic) we humbly withdraw our article. Though this article has been accepted, we could no longer go on with its publication. This is due to unforeseen circumstances. Please, we are very sorry (sic) for the inconveniences this has caused you. Thanks so much in anticipation.”

Editor's reply: “I suppose you will appreciate how much time and efforts reviewers, editors, and copyediting staff invest in working up a manuscript for publication. The final feedback goes to them. What do we tell them? That our authors are fickle-minded? We expect more responsible behavior from authors.”

Author 2: “This is regarding the paper which is accepted by your journal. The other authors do not want now to sign copyright form as they want to remove my name and send it to another international journal. Please guide me. The fourth author who was in touch with me is now frantically telling me to inform you to withdraw the article, whereas I want to continue with publication of this paper in your journal. All my hard work will go waste. Please tell me what I should do now. I have also uploaded copyright form with date of submission. Sir I am really sorry, but my other article was also published without my name. That guy got a promotion.”

Editor's reply: I am afraid you have to resolve the conflict among authors at your end. I checked the copyright form and saw that authors have not individually signed the copyright form; had it been so, we could have proceeded with the publication. Only one author has signed on behalf of all which is not acceptable. We cannot proceed with the publication without signatures of all the authors. Any dispute has to be referred to the authors' institution for resolution.

Author 3: We would like to withdraw this case report since the patient refused to give consent for publication of his picture and case details.

Editor's reply: We cannot proceed without the consent of the participant. We have no choice but to withdraw this paper. However, we want to convey to you that this withdrawal has caused us much inconvenience. The reviewers spent a lot of time and effort in critical appraisal of the paper. One reviewer has also submitted an invited commentary on the case report which must have taken time and effort. In future, you should get the consent of the patient before submitting your manuscript.

Many authors do not observe the etiquettes of authorship. Frequently, we get requests for withdrawals of manuscripts during the final stages of publication. Obviously, these authors seem oblivious to the efforts which go into the publication process. They also perhaps do not understand the inconveniences faced by the editorial team due to last-minute withdrawals.

Last-minute withdrawal is agony for the editor. Editing and peer reviewing a manuscript is a lengthy process. Finding the appropriate peer reviewer is the first difficult task. At times, the first set of reviewers may decline to review due to time constraints. Worse, some reviewers do not respond. The editor has to time out this nonresponse period before sending the manuscript to a different set of reviewers. Sometimes on an accepted paper, we invite commentaries from subject experts. Writing a commentary takes time and effort. One can appreciate the embarrassment it causes us, if after accepting these commentaries, the authors of the parent paper request for withdrawal, a situation we have faced a couple of times.

Even if authors understand the agony of the editor (some do apologize for this), they may have dilemmas in continuing with the publication. These dilemmas usually revolve around conflicts regarding authorship, duplicate submission, and failure to obtain patient's consent as brought out in the exchanges between the authors and editors.

To prevent instances of last-minute withdrawals, authors should resolve these issues at the planning stage of a research project or a paper. Guidelines for authorship are available. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommends checklist for authorship.[1] These include (a) substantial contribution to the conception or design of the work or the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data related to the work; (b) drafting the work or revising it extensively with substantial intellectual inputs; (c) final approval of the version to be published; and (d) agreement to be responsible for accuracy and integrity of the work.

These guidelines are easier said than done. For example, the third guideline, “final approval of the version to be published” is rather vague. Anyone (for example, the head of the department) can read the final draft and approve it. Does it earn one the position of coauthor? Another issue precipitated by the Medical Council of India guidelines is that only the 1st and 2nd authors get credit [2] for tenure and position. This has also led to a mad scramble for the first two slots in the authors' list.

This scramble is similar to bus passengers jostling to enter the bus with limited seats, alas a sight too common in our country. All decency and considerations for others are thrown to the winds. A similar environment prevails in our academics. In such a charged climate with high stakes of tenure and promotion, conflicts are common which precipitate last-minute withdrawals.

Besides, there are requests by authors to change the sequence of authors or add other authors after the manuscript is accepted for publication. All such requests by authors should alert the editor to possible authorship conflicts.

The rise of predatory journals has further compounded the issue. Any author can get a manuscript published within a couple of weeks by paying the required amount in these journals which violate all principles of publication ethics. They do not follow any peer review; encourage plagiarism, duplicate submission, and other unethical practices. There have been instances when after a manuscript has been sent to the authors with the referees' comments for revision, the authors have withdrawn the paper rather than make efforts to improve the paper and resubmit. They have preferred to submit the same unrevised manuscript to a predatory publisher and get the paper published within a very short time. Regrettably for Indian academics, a recent study has shown that even researchers from national institutes of repute have been publishing in predatory journals.[3]

In other cases, some smart authors submit a manuscript to get some inputs from the reviewers through a journal publication system. Once they get these inputs, they may revise the paper based on these inputs and submit the revised manuscript to some other journal which may promise faster publication with less stringent quality checks. Multiple authorships can lead to a situation where each author has submitted the same manuscript to different journals leading to last-minute requests for withdrawals.

Failures to get proper patient consent for publication of case reports and photographs are all too common. Just covering the eyes of the patient without consent is not adequate concealment of identity. Authors should obtain proper informed consent including permission for publication and for photographs when the patients are under their care. Later, patients may be lost to follow-up. Lack of patient consent may lead to withdrawal of the manuscript.

Authorship issues are more difficult to resolve.[4] In this, the senior faculty can set an example. They should refrain from insisting their names to be included in papers published by their junior colleagues when they have not contributed to the study. It is difficult for a junior colleague to refuse. Senior academicians should not encourage unethical practices by bad examples. Ethics cannot be promoted by having more workshops on bioethics (fashionable nowadays). It can be better promoted by personal examples.


1International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors; 2016. Available from: [Last accessed on 2016 Dec 22].
2Aggarwal R, Gogtay N, Kumar R, Sahni P; Indian Association of Medical Journal Editors. The revised guidelines of the Medical Council of India for the academic promotions: Need for a rethink. J Conserv Dent 2016;19:1-4.
3Seethapathy GS, Santhosh Kumar JU, Hareesha AS. India's scientific publication in predatory journals: Need for regulating quality of Indian science and education. Curr Sci 2016;111:1759-64.
4Browner WS. Publishing and Presenting Clinical Research. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins, A Wolters Kluwer Business; 2012. p. 137-44.