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The Setup

I hold a prepared and written manuscript (10 500 words of text) focused on argumenting about specific problem in my field of study. This paper has been rejected few times from the most reputable journals and now I stand before the decision to finally send it to the last remaining one of the reputable journals I took inspiration from. However, as this was my first paper I think I might have overreached and plugged almost everything I could in it that I considered relevent for the argument. Now, I start to think that this might be the problem and the reason for rejection, because the paper feels rather like two papers that could be separated.

The Problem

I am pretty confident that the first chapter (2 500 words) of the paper is its strongest point, there is the core of the argument, while the remaining chapters are just supportive evidence and classification of the possible outcomes of the argument. However, there is one substantial problem: The argument on its own is not sufficient for publications as it should contain implications as well (cannot just say: this definition is problematic for this and that reason; must include also, what to make of it). My most profound implication of the argument I present is that it effectively simplifies another argument. But... This implication is laid out in total of 3 chapters on multiple separate positions (around 1 500 words in total) - in the original paper it makes sense as I focus on too many things that are interconnected.

The Idea

And here's the thing... I could shorten the paper, use the first chapter, and rewrite the implication such that it is more compact. Or I could write a cover letter to editors explaining that I do not exactly know what should I let in the paper and propose the afformentioned reduction.

Conclusion:

  • Is writing a cover letter to editors proposing the shortening of the paper a good custom?
  • The reduced version of the paper would contain less information but would be more compact.
  • Shall I send the reduced version right away and just tell there is potentially more to it?
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    You write that your paper was rejected quite a few times already. What was the feedback that you received from those rejections? Did you address these properly? From what you have written it is not clear whether you bothered to include the suggestions from reviewers to improve your paper.
    – And
    May 22, 2023 at 1:01
  • 2
    By mentioning chapters, are you by chance indicating sections of your manuscript? May 22, 2023 at 4:59
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    Are you the only author? Do you have someone from your faculty to provide you feedback? It is better to ask someone established in your field to get involved. The feedback will be more specific compared to answers from this site!
    – usr1234567
    May 22, 2023 at 6:36
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    Of course I can't tell but have you considered that the paper may indeed not be good enough for the top level journals? Have you tried to find a more specialist journal with somewhat lower Impact factor that could be a more appropriate venue for your paper? These should still exist with OK reputation. I think that the current trend that everyone submits to the top journals is bad for science as it creates lots of additional editor and reviewer work that would not be necessary if people would go as soon as possible for a level at which editors are happy to publish the work. May 22, 2023 at 9:54
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    You should not submit the paper to any more journals. Instead, focus on forming working relationships with one or more academics established in this field (at other institutions if there are none in your own), with whom you can test your ideas and writing. That is the only way you will get the feedback you need.
    – Stuart
    May 24, 2023 at 8:55

6 Answers 6

19

You should submit the best version of your paper that you are capable of submitting. Whether the shorter or longer version is the best version is up to you to figure out.

It's fine to ask editors about flexibility in policies like word counts or figure counts, but it's not their responsibility to read your paper and help you determine its length, only to decide whether the paper you submit is a potential good fit for their journal.

If you want feedback on the length, I'd recommend asking people in your professional network rather than expecting editors to help.

17

Don't do it. If you submit a paper and promise to shorten it, why not shorten it right away? The editor won't bother sending a draft paper out for review and an improved version of the same paper shortly after. It would just waste everyone's time.

12

At least in mathematics (my field) it would be normal to say in a cover letter to an editor/journal that "the paper can be substantially shortened, if necessary, at the expense of omitting some of the proofs which follow standard arguments." The reason is that some of the strongest math journals really do not like publishing papers that are over 30 page-long (the longer the paper, the harder to publish) and some journals even have hard cut-offs on the length of a paper.

2

Direct response: submit the 'shortened' manuscript and in the cover letter, indicate that there's potentially more to it. The trimmed down version should still be able to stand on it own.

I focus on too many things that are interconnected.

[1] Consider mapping out diagrammatically the interconnections. From there, see which are the main interconnecting pipes and filtered out the draining pipes. Your manuscript might get more concise.


[Edit] @Henning input, which I fully agree and align to:
... Don't include the diagram in your paper, but use it as an aid for revising it. It's a revising aid, a scaffolding. Do not include in the actual paper (at least not verbatim).
The purpose is to aid.


[2] Prepare for yourself a rebuttal based in previous rejections. With your earlier graphical view of your research argument and 'rebuttal', your manuscript should take shape more clearly (on key arguments).

[3] From there, get a four-eye-review from 'colleagues' in your discipline, amend accordingly and submit to the next (reputable) journal in line.

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    That's a good revising technique. Just to be sure: Don't include the diagram in your paper, but use it as an aid for revising it. May 22, 2023 at 7:15
  • @henning ... Fully agree. It's a revising aid, a scaffolding. Do not include in the actual paper. ... If at all it's (remotely) included, it comes in as a conceptual visualisation of the research. Then refine it similar to a 'conceptual framework'. However, better drop it.– Use as a aid and drop it off. May 22, 2023 at 8:13
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Sometimes I write very long papers -- and am faced with similar difficulties. A wonderful method that has helped me on several occasions is to equip papers with long appendices. This enables one to explain in the main text the key results, in a terse manner, and to expand on them in appendices.

On a couple of occasions, even this trick was insufficient, because the total size of a paper, with appendices, was excessively large. So in those two cases we agreed with the Editor that I would put the full version on ArXiV.org and cite it in a shorter version to be published in the journal. But then, again, this happened to me in two cases only. Usually, the trick with appendices works out well.

1

Your situation sounds similar to mine: several rejections of a long-ish paper from top journals. A small number left to try before moving to lower tier. This "answer" will use that as a guide to give you advice.

I have several relevant posts here about it. In my situation, it is a blessing because I found better arguments and now legitimately have more than one paper.

The comments and answers to my questions are probably relevant here: have capable and trusted readers give you honest and thorough feedback. That will help you decide what to leave out if anything (and generally how to improve the presentation).

Follow the standards of the discipline and the journal you wish to submit to. This includes the writing style and paper format. If it is typical for things to be left out, then do that. I do find that top journal papers often day things like "it is easy to see X" and I personally don't like that, but if that is the cultural standard, it is what it is and might be advised to follow it. But there is no guarantee that yours is treated exactly the same as other papers. You say this is your first paper, and that means there is an additional challenge due to lack of experience. My situation is similar--although I am mid career and have several papers, this is my first truly top-journal worthy result. The challenge is purely about presentation/style. I suspect that is a big factor here. "Style" could also be construed to include things like leaving out standard or simple arguments or the specific way/order things are owned in (the flow of the arguments). That will depend on discipline/journal to a degree too.

Much of this comes down to editor and referee subjective preference too. There is luck involved as well -so I have been told at least.

I was unable to get any thorough/careful qualified readers for my paper (the main thing people suggested I needed), but the extremely limited amount of feedback I got was IMMENSELY helpful (from real, even somewhat "famous" experts). That plus deep introspection, hard work, and much rewriting will vastly improve my paper. Plus presenting the work to an audience helped. Even if I still can't get it at a top journal, the paper will be accepted somewhere. It's for the love of the knowledge and sharing it that matters, even if it's not immediately (or ever) honored by those at the top.

I hope that is helpful and doesn't just come across me wanting to talk about myself. I truly get the situations were similar and that these comments might be helpful.

Best of luck!

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