Editors should follow consistent procedures to evaluate papers and make decisions regarding acceptance (see 5.11.3, Editorial Responsibility for Manuscript Assessment). Editors should inform authors of acceptance of their manuscripts in a letter that describes the subsequent process of publication, including substantive editing and any remaining queries; editing of the manuscript, tables, and figures for accuracy, consistency, clarity, style, grammar, and formatting; and what material the author will be expected to review and approve before publication. Editors may also provide an approximate timetable for the publication process. If authors are given an expected date of publication, they should be informed of the likelihood of the date changing. The acceptance letter should also remind authors of any policies regarding duplicate publication, disclosure of conflicts of interest, and restrictions on prepublication release of information to the public or the news media (see also 5.3, Duplicate Publication; 5.5, Conflicts of Interest; and 5.13, Release of Information to the Public and Journal/Author Relations With the News Media).
Authors should avoid making substantial changes to the manuscript after acceptance, unless correcting an error, answering an editor’s request for missing information, responding to an editor’s or a proofreader’s query, or providing an essential update. Likewise, editors should review manuscripts before acceptance and avoid asking authors for substantial changes after final acceptance.
If circumstances (eg, an unanticipated decrease in the number of pages allotted for publication or clustering of certain papers for a special issue) cause a delay in publishing an accepted manuscript beyond the typical time between acceptance and publication, editors should inform the corresponding author of the reason for the delay.
Editors should not reverse decisions to accept papers after the authors have been notified unless serious problems are subsequently identified with the content of the manuscript (eg, flawed methods, inconsistent or invalid data, allegations of misconduct) or the author has failed to meet the journal’s publication requirements (eg, transfer of copyright, disclosure of duplicate submissions or publications, disclosure of conflicts of interest).5 An example of editorial discourtesy in handling accepted manuscripts occurred when an editor “unaccepted” a paper that his journal had accepted unconditionally 20 months earlier. The reason provided to the authors for this change of decision was that the journal’s inventory of accepted papers had grown too large.23 However, if a new editor inherits from the journal’s previous editor a large inventory of accepted manuscripts deemed outdated or inappropriate, the new editor may have to find ways to deal with these papers appropriately. In such a case, the editor may request a one-time or temporary increase in journal pages from the publisher. If this is not a viable option, for financial or other reasons, the editor may choose to contact the authors of accepted manuscripts that have not yet been scheduled for publication and explain that too many papers had been accepted to be able to publish them in a reasonable period. The editor may offer the authors options to withdraw their manuscript and send it to another journal, reduce the length of their manuscript to allow it and others to be published in the limited number of pages allocated to the print journal, or publish their manuscript online only. However, any decisions not to publish previously accepted papers should be made carefully and perhaps with the consultation of the journal’s editorial board or legal adviser.
Some editors will grant authors a “provisional acceptance,” offering to publish their papers if certain conditions or minor requirements are met. Some journals use provisional or conditional acceptance for revision requests when they are fairly certain that the revision will be accepted for publication. However, use of a provisional acceptance as a request for revision can cause problems if the revised manuscript is not suitable for publication. To avoid such problems, provisional acceptance decision letters should clearly communicate that acceptance is contingent on specific conditions that are clearly described for the author. If a new editorial policy requires a new condition for publication to be met by authors who submitted papers before the policy took effect, a provisional acceptance can be used to permit these papers to move forward without unnecessary delay.