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A few years ago I wrote a paper with three collaborators, where we introduced a model to describe a specific phenomenon. In the end we were not fully happy with the result, so we wrote it up, put it on the arXiv without submitting to a journal, and agreed to revisit the subject after a small break.

Approximately a year later we gathered again, re-started almost from scratch, and came up with a better model, which resulted in a paper that we quickly submitted, and had accepted in a good journal.

A bit more than a year later, I now see that even though the second paper gets cited, the first still rakes up some amount of citations. We ourselves think that the second one is better, but obviously there are people who disagree.

What to do with the first paper? Should it be submitted to a journal to undergo peer review? And would it not be strange to try and submit the first paper to a journal, pretending that the second paper never happened?

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  • Disclosure to journals is likely key here. If a reputable journal is willing to publish your paper (given it is in fact receiving citations), then I do not see a large issue with it.
    – Vladhagen
    Sep 11, 2018 at 18:45
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    Are the two models very distinct or not so much? I wonder if some people reading the second paper are still citing the earlier arXiv submission because they feel like it is the priority citation, although you make it sound like the second approach is much better.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 11, 2018 at 18:50
  • The basic idea behind is very similar. The reason the second one is better is due mostly to improvement of several details, which in the end made the results more trustworthy.
    – nabla
    Sep 11, 2018 at 18:53
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    Why do you care if it's peer reviewed? Some of the people citing your arXiv version read it before citing it, so it's already received some amount of peer review. Bureaucrats looking for "peer-reviewed publications" may not count it, but I wouldn't expect three random journal reviewers to improve it much. Which of those two you care about should influence your decision. Sep 11, 2018 at 23:45
  • Jefferey Bosboom: Good question :). It is not only bureaucrats who worry about that (though they do, and their worry should be counted). It is also fellow researchers who, when stumbling on a paper, becomes curious why it is not in a journal, and that there may be something wrong with it. As I want people to notice the second paper more, this might actually be the answer I am looking for.
    – nabla
    Sep 12, 2018 at 14:16

2 Answers 2

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I see no reason that you really need to do anything with the first paper. In arXiv it is a stable, citable resource, people are finding it useful, and the citations are accruing credit to your work.

If you are concerned that people who are reading the first paper are unaware that it is obsolete, then you can add update its entry to add a pointer to the second paper. People will still likely continue to cite the first paper, however, either because they have reason to prefer it or because it's already in their reference collection and they don't revisit and see your update.

Other than providing a pointer to the second paper, though, I see no reason not to just let well enough alone, be grateful the people are appreciating your work, and move forward onto other things.

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Based on your comment

The basic idea behind is very similar. The reason the second one is better is due mostly to improvement of several details, which in the end made the results more trustworthy.

this sounds to me like you could consider the arXiv paper to be an earlier draft of the second paper, in which case you've basically already published it (as the second paper).

Presumably anything novel in the arXiv paper is no longer novel in the field because it is either established directly (or superseded) by the second paper, or the second paper cites your arXiv paper directly.

As @Vladhagen mentions in a comment, if you do decide to continue with an attempt to submit the earlier work, you will need to be clear about the existence of the second paper to any journals you submit it to, and given the similarities you should certainly be citing your second paper in the new submission anyways. If anything, that self-citation would be the purpose of submitting the previous work, in order to direct more attention towards your second paper.

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