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Prior to submitting a Journal article, I had a conversation with my supervisor about whether it was suitable for a letter (max 4 pages) or a more detailed article (max 12 pages). My position was that the core contribution (a new method) could be concisely and completely be described in less than 4 pages, and should therefore be a letter. The complication was that some progress had been made on the application of the method to a particular problem.

I therefore wanted to publish the first letter straight away, and later publish a second letter later dealing with the application. My supervisor didn't like this idea. He said it was "playing the game" to increase one's own H-index, and it was more suited to a single article. I subsequently took his advice to submit a full length article. However, now (with the article submitted over 3 months ago, and still under editorial review) he has changed his mind and says it's "up to me" as to whether I would like to withdraw it and resubmit as 2 letters...

So my question is whether there is any disadvantage to publishing research as a series of short (more concise/readable, and faster reviewed) letters in the same Journal?

(In this journal the letters are also mandated as open access, which is an option rarely used for the full length articles, and may improve findability)

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    Open access or not is completely independent of letter vs. full article. – F'x Nov 30 '13 at 15:12
  • You did not provide a lot of information on the completeness, quality, urgency and degree of connection between each individual pieces. Still, it sounds like that your supposed second letter might not make it through the review process. Being new, complete and sound research along does not justify publishing as a letter, you have to also demonstrate importance and urgency. And if your adviser think it is "playing the game", it likely doesn't suit to be divided into papers. – Xiaolei Zhu Nov 30 '13 at 15:32
  • @F'x: that is true, however for this particular journal ALL of the "express letters" are open access, so it may make it easier to find than an open access full length article (rare). – xyz Nov 30 '13 at 16:01
  • @XiaoleiZhu: I would agree that at the state it was when submitted as 1 article, the material belonging to the second letter would not have made it. However, in 3 months there has been some new progress - so it may be possible (although still not as strong as the first letter). I guess I'm unclear on how to distinguish importance and urgency. My feeling is that it may be useful research worth publishing, and there would be no need to draw it out into a full length article after the first letter was already published. – xyz Nov 30 '13 at 16:09
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    I'm not sure if your referees would be happy if you said, "You know how I asked you to review my paper like 3 months ago. But now I think about it, I kinda wanna split it into 2 letters cause that way I can get the perks like open access, higher H-index, and whatnot. Can you start over?" – Yuichiro Fujiwara Nov 30 '13 at 17:53
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My advice would be to go through with the submission as is. If you were to withdraw the manuscript you would then have to write the two new papers and go through review for each of them. These steps take a lot of time and effort, both of which you could spend on original research (e.g. use this new method to solve various other problems).

The only case where the resubmittal might be interesting is if your results are so novel and significant that you are almost sure you can publish them in a high-profile journal (more prestigious than the current one). Then again, if they had this kind of potential I guess your advisor would have spotted it...

Generally speaking, having two papers (one of them as a letter in a prestigious journal) is of course more gratifying than one long publication and looks better on the CV. There are however two points to consider:

  • The results need to be important enough to warrant publication as a letter. In particular, the (uncertain) benefit of having it published must compensate the investment in time and effort (see above).
  • The "long paper" should contain enough new material to stand on its own. "Salami slicing", also known as the search for the "minimum publishable unit", is frowned upon. Although this behavior is not apparent from the publication list, it can be detected by careful examination (e.g. by the candidate's referee on a hiring committee).

See also this thread for more details.

  • Sure, I agree that I may as well leave it as is for the current submission. However, my question is in a more general sense (e.g. future submissions) about whether the style of splitting research into letters can be more appropriate. So I am looking for an answer that expands on @XiaoleiZhu's comments above – xyz Dec 1 '13 at 1:31
  • I updated the answer accordingly. – Doru Constantin Dec 1 '13 at 8:35

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