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I work on an actively developed collaborative project. The project is a simulation package. The model has various manuals and guides. These guides are non-peer reviewed collaborative documents self published online. When features are added to the model it is important to keep the guides up to date. For example, when a new feature is added the user guide must be updated to enable users to use the new feature.

I recently added a major update to the code. I documented the use of the new submodel and it's numerical verification in the collaborative user guides.

To make this novel contribution permanently available to others (the guides are changing constantly) and to reach a wider audience, I submitted an article to an archived peer reviewed journal. The article included the theory, implementation and verification of the new submodel. i.e. some of the content from the guide is in the article.

One of the reviewer's comments I received was:

It bothers me that the present paper does not add any new findings or results to those already published in <the guide>. Figures xyz of the current manuscript are same as the Figures abc of <the guide>. Therefore, I do not recommend the publication of this paper in the <journal> in its present form. The authors must delineate the similarities and differences between the works mentioned above.

I am the author of the relevant sections of the guide. The guide is not a permanently available archived peer reviewed journal. That is the reason I decided to publish in a journal.

I would draw a parallel to a PhD thesis chapter (or an MSc thesis). These are publicly available, arguably more "peer reviewed" than manuals or guides and will be permanently archived. It is typical for thesis chapters to be converted in to journal articles - so why not a non peer reviewed, non permanent and unarchived manual?

Is this a valid and fair comment? Is content presented in manual or user guide be published in a journal?

  • Part, at least, of your problem is that journals really don't like to publish things that have already appeared. Your work didn't appear sufficiently new or different to this reviewer, I suspect. – Buffy Jan 7 at 21:50
  • @Buffy The work has only appeared in a non-reviewed, self published manual though. By the same logic, if I posted words on a personal webpage or even social media; I couldn't publish it in a journal? That seems mad to me – cyuut Jan 7 at 22:42
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I think the comment is fair, but can be rebutted. I would prepare an answer layered on two levels:

  • On the practical level, change figures xyz as much as you can. Maybe run some additional simulations, change the plots, legends, colours, etc.. This will show some willingness to the editor.
  • On the more crucial aspect of whether your work can be considered "novel enough" to be published in the journal: I would argue that
    • the paper will provide a much more coherent context to the model (as only published articles can), and as such its dissemination will be facilitated;
    • the guide is subject to be changed in the future, while the published paper is a much more "stable" resource for future researchers;
    • depending on the model itself, you can argue that the paper will make it possible for researchers that don't use your code to implement the model in their own codes. If this is true, you might reword some parts of the manuscript to focus more on the model itself, which should be the paper's main selling point, than on its implementation in the code.
  • I like your final point 1.3 and will definitely include it in my rebuttal. – cyuut Jan 8 at 9:47
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Yes it can. Obviously there can be a benefit from moving work that is not peer reviewed into peer reviewed archived literature.

But this journal didn't want it. Don't argue. Move on to another one.

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Check on the guidelines of the journal. There are some journals, such as Computer Physics Communications which explicitly encourage publication of code along with manuals and a paper describing it (and actually also peer-review the computer code).

However, even for other journals, the reviewer's comment may not be completely fair. A publication should be original, i.e. contain not only previously published results/material. The question now is whether those guides are published material. In the olden times, people presented new results at conferences and published them in associated proceedings (not reviewed), yet the very same results were later published in peer-reviewed journals. Your situation is very similar and arguably, the guides not public in a sense that makes your manuscript not original.

I would

  1. publish the manuscript on the arXiv;
  2. shorten the online guides substantially, referring to the up-coming journal article and its arXiv pre-print.

Even if you cannot (1), you can do (2) though for some time (until your article is published) the guides may be incomplete.

  • Thanks for your answer. What is the benefit/aim of (1) - specific to this context I mean? – cyuut Jan 8 at 18:22
  • The idea is to remove/shorten the online guides and eventually replace them with your publication (thereby taking the wind out of the sails of the reviewers argument). So that users still have access even before your manuscript is published, you may publish the manuscript on the arXiv. – Walter Jan 9 at 18:53

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