The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless at some point the journal editor informs the corresponding (or complained-about) author (due process) and likely the other journal.
Comparison of relevant texts
The first stage must be a simple comparison of the relevant texts. A simple side-by-side comparison by the editor for the simpler forms of duplicate publication or a more thoughtful analysis by the editor if the same research or a single research project is being inappropriately written up as separate articles.
Note that an identical or similar version of an article may have been published by one journal (often in a national or local edition, usually in a local language) and legitimately republished in another more international journal. The ethical implications of such republication will depend on the editorial policies of the journal - and agreement by the editors of the two journals involved. Republication may be appropriate provided the prior publication and any relevant facts concerning such publication are disclosed to and agreed by the editor. A brief explanation of these circumstances and full citation details for the previous article should be published along with the newly published version, preferably as a footnote to the title.
What if the editor reasonably determines that the articles are the same or the research reported is substantially the same (or should not have been reported in multiple articles)?
- Then the editor should communicate accordingly with the corresponding (or complained-about) author and likely the other journal. Either the editor or possibly the publishing staff may contact the other journal where the duplicate publication occurred. The editor is more likely to contact the other editor (see Form letter D for this purpose). Elsevier's publishing staff are more likely to contact the publisher.
- It may be useful for the editor to involve other peer reviewers, editorial board members, or experts in the relevant field, using standard peer review procedures, to review the texts (especially if the allegation is a more complex form of multiple publication).
- In the communication to the corresponding (or complained-about) author (see Form letter A1), the editor may indicate that it is possible that the matter may be referred to the institution or company where the research took place or any other relevant institution or agency (for example a funding agency) unless the author provides a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).
What if the corresponding (complained-about) author accepts the position of the complainant?
Then a corrigendum or the retraction procedure are the normal remedies. Note that there may still be disagreement concerning the appropriate description of the reason. It is normally sufficient to simply indicate that the complained-about version was in essence previously published in the other journal.
What if the corresponding/complained-about author rejects the position of the complainant? Then the editor will have to consider whether the author’s explanation is reasonable. Normally the editor would also inform the complainant of the author's explanation and seek comment (see Form letter B).
What if the corresponding/complained-about author has not responded in a timely fashion to the editor’s correspondence? Then it would be fair for the editor to draw an inference that there is some substance to the complaint.
What if the complainant and authors, or if relevant the employing institutions and funding agencies, fail to reach consensus or to act in a reasonable time?
Then the editor will be expected to make a determination, in his or her reasonable judgment, as to the underlying facts, and to make a recommendation to Elsevier (and possibly the society for a society journal), which Elsevier will implement normally through some form of notice, corrigendum, or the retraction and removal process.