Help, my manuscript’s been unsubmitted!

Feb 18, 2022 | Scholarly publishing

You’ve finished your project and written your paper. You’ve researched the best journals in the subject area and know exactly which one you want to publish in. You go through the submission process, take a deep breath, cross everything, and hit that “submit” button. You get an email to confirm that the submission has been successful, you start breathing again, shut down your computer, and go pour yourself a glass of something strong.

The following morning, however, you are greeted with an email saying that your manuscript has been unsubmitted – the formatting’s wrong, you haven’t included an authorship statement, there are too many words in your abstract – and the hope of the previous evening comes crashing down around you. How has this happened? Why has this happened?? What does it mean???


First things first: don’t panic.

When a submission is received by a journal, the first thing that happens is that a member of the editorial team – usually an Editorial Assistant or Managing Editor – will check to ensure that it adheres to the rules for that particular journal.

The rules vary considerably from journal to journal. Some are very liberal and, so long as all the important bits have been included (abstract, text, references, etc), then they’ll approve it. Some are very strict and can unsubmit a new submission for as small an error as putting “et al” in the references after five authors instead of four.


Is this a sign that my paper’s going to be rejected?!

For most journals, the academic editors will not look at a manuscript until it has been checked and approved by the administrative staff. Unsubmission for corrections is a routine occurrence and will have no impact whatsoever on whether your manuscript goes on to be accepted. So don’t worry!


What do you do now?

The first thing to do is to read the email carefully. If any of the instructions or requests are unclear, hit reply and ask the editorial office for clarification. We’re here to help and want to get your manuscript ready for review as swiftly as possible.

We promise that if a journal is asking you to amend something it is generally for good reason, even if that reason is not entirely clear to you. The best thing to do is to simply make the amendments and follow the instructions to resubmit as soon as you are able.


Tips to avoid your work being unsubmitted
  1. If you’ve submitted to a journal before and the staff have asked you to amend something, re-read the email and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors don’t do this.
  2. Read the Instructions For Authors carefully and format your manuscript accordingly. It isn’t unheard of for a rule to change and the IFAs to go slightly out of date; but if your manuscript is formatted as described then the chances are it’ll be correct.
  3. Have a look at the latest issue of the journal (either in print or online) and see how the articles are laid out. If they include a Conflict of Interest statement, add a Conflict of Interest statement to your manuscript file. If the references are formatted in Chicago style, format your references in Chicago style. If the Abstract is structured using particular headings, use these headings to structure your Abstract.
In conclusion

Unsubmissions happen all the time and are a routine part of the process. If your manuscript gets unsubmitted, it is nothing to worry about and your research still has every chance of going on to be published, being widely cited, and helping to advance knowledge in your field.