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I have recently submitted a 40 pages paper to a journal, say (A). After about 6 months, the editor let me know that several reviewers have declined to review my paper, and so he decided to reject the paper. He suggested that I submit my paper to a more specialized journal. Journal (A) is already a specialized journal and I only know 1 journal more specialized than (A), let's call it journal (B). So, one of my options is to submit my paper to journal (B) and accept the risk of a similar feedback from the editors of journal (B), of course after several months.

In the mean while, I think the main reason several reviewers declined to review my paper is that (1) my paper is relatively long, (2) My paper consists of two parts and each part addresses a different subject. Therefore, the set of reviewers who have expertise in both subjects and are willing to read and review my paper is very small. Due to these facts, it is very likely the editors of journal (B) face the same problem. So, as the second option, I am thinking of splitting my paper into two shorter papers each consisting only one subject of my original paper. Regarding this option, I can think of the following pros and cons:

Pros:

(i) There are a good number of experts in each subject and it is fairly easy to find a reviewer for each one of my shorter papers.

(ii) This facilitates the referee process of each paper and hopefully reduces its time period .

(iii) Two papers (each approximately 20 pages) look better than one paper (approximately 40 pages) in my CV.

Cons:

(a) The second part of my paper depends on the notations and results of the first part. So the reviewer of the second part may prefer to read and review the whole paper at once, or even worse he/she may call the paper containing the second part incomplete.

(b) Part of the motivation of the developments in the first part of my paper comes from my work in the second part. By separating these two parts, the reviewer of the first part can complain about the lack of enough motivations and justifications for my results. In my opinion, it is not a serious problem because I will explain the application of my works which is going to appear in the second paper. But I am not the person who makes the final decision and the reviewer may blame this and reject the paper.

(c) I can imagine that it would be a difficult path to follow the referee processes of two related papers simultaneously, because of the following reasons: It is possible that the opinions of reviewers of the shorter papers differ significantly. Or it is possible that these papers get refereed in two very different time periods. It is also possible that one of the papers gets accepted and the other one doesn't, which is a pretty ugly situation.

Unfortunately, I have faced each of the above difficulties ((a), (b) and (c)) in my previous submissions and I know how they can ruin my papers. In fact, the main reason that I organized my results collectively in one paper was to avoid the above issues. But now that my paper has been rejected without any peer review, I am considering the option of splitting my results into two papers. So, I have the following questions to ask from people who have more experience and have been involved with similar situations (for instance as an editor or a referee):

(1) What do you think about the above pros and cons? Do you know any other pros and/or cons? And, is it a good idea to split my paper into two shorter papers?

(2) If it is advisable to split my paper into two papers, should I submit them to the same journal, (maybe same editor), or should I submit them to different journals according to the best editors who can handle my papers?

  • Why did you include two different subject in one paper? If reviewing them requires different expertise, as you suggest, it sounds they are not much related. Also, have you tried to verify your assumptions with the editor? The reason of rejection may be completely different than what you think. – Greg Aug 21 '14 at 6:18
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    @Greg: The answer to your first question has already been given by the OP: "(b) Part of the motivation..." It certainly does not follow that two parts of a work that require different expertise are unrelated: much of intellectual work involves making connections between previously separate things. – Pete L. Clark Aug 21 '14 at 6:21
  • @Greg: As I explained in the above, the second part of paper depends on results of the first part and the first part is motivated more convincingly by the second part. – user4511 Aug 21 '14 at 6:22
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    It seems like (a) is easily fixed: in paper 2, spend a page or two to restate the notation and necessary results from paper 1. – Nate Eldredge Aug 21 '14 at 6:35
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    One more pro comes to mind: as a reader, I'll more likely read one or two shorter papers with one specific topic than a long paper with two different topics. I'd assume the two separate papers will be easier to find by someone searching for a specific topic later on. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Aug 21 '14 at 8:18
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Well, in my opinion, the following fragment of your question outweighs everything else:

(2) My paper consists of two parts and each part addresses a different subject. Therefore, the set of reviewers who have expertise in both subjects and are willing to read and review my paper is very small.

I appreciate that you are able to imagine the problem that will be faced by the journal editors. So, splitting into two is certainly not a bad idea in this case.

I can mention some instances where this has been done in the past. In each of these cases, the problem wasn't as acute as yours (i.e. both could actually be reviewed by the same expert), but perhaps the authors chose to do this because of length considerations (or some other reason that I can't imagine). Also, in these cases, it wasn't a case of two different journals A and B - it was two sequential papers in the same journal. So, that creates an additional option for you, if you find it appropriate. (The context here is Physics, but I'm sure this can be generalized to Maths, if I'm right!)

Example 1: R. P. Feynman was a charismatic Nobel Laureate (Nobel, 1965), as you probably know. Here are his two significant contributions to QED, appearing back to back in Physical Review:

Paper1, Paper2 (both are free pdfs officially, given their landmark status.)

In particular, he began Paper 1 by writing:

This is the first of a set of papers dealing with the solution of problems in quantum electrodynamics.

and started Paper 2 with the sentence:

This paper should be considered as a direct continuation of the preceding one ...

He had developed the formalism in the former and applied it to the problem in the latter. That makes a candidate for splitting into two.

Example 2 Here are two papers by Sidney Coleman which form the backbone of phenomenological effective Lagrangian method in low-energy Nuclear Physics. (These aren't free and I'm not sure you will be able to get past the paywall here!)

Paper 1, paper 2.

Notice again, that they are consecutive papers in the same journal. The second paper also has an extra author, and that could be one reason for splitting into two. But once again, from the point of view of content, the general method was devised in paper 1 and applied to some context in paper 2. But here, the authors spent a section of paper 2 in explaining what they developed in Paper 1.

Thus, long story cut short - it should be possible to go ahead and split into two parts. If they are consecutive, you can carry over everything directly, if not, spend a few sentences explaining your notation etc.

PS - Congratulations for doing this sort of work which could put the editors into this type of a fix. That smells like a significant contribution to Maths, having applications elsewhere (other branches?), which is probably why you insist that it would be rare to find a referee who can ably judge both!

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    I know it would be immoral to pick up things from Greg's answer now, but I wish I had added that ''consult the editors'' note. Sounds sensible. – 299792458 Aug 21 '14 at 6:52
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This problem sounds either:

  • bad editorial choice and poorly structure paper or
  • two papers that were not split in time

Generally a research program is not just growing like a blob, but follow some strategy, planing. If you split the two parts, you can briefly mention this strategy (even if it is retrospective) and the results of the other paper. It can be in the introduction and in discussion as well. Most journals allow to cite manuscripts under revision. If not, you can try to describe without citation that you had this and this motivation, and the results will be published soon.

If you don't want to split the paper, you can restructure it as one part to subordinate to the other. Eg. if you you have some important technical detail in the first part you use in the second, but boring in itself, you put the details in an appendix or SI. It is pretty common practice, especially in older paper, and it helps the reader orient themselves around.

Two notes:

  • Again, I would consult with the editor at first place. They are busy, but generally nice people, so he may comment more in detail about your worries about size and structure. You may have completely different reasons of rejection.
  • You always can try to send out another journal (not necessarily more specialist) without much re-editing. Different journals have different expectations for length, structure, scope.
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(b) could be a serious problem, because the referee reading the first paper does not know how legitimate the promised application in the second paper is.

If so, one option is to just follow the editors' advice, resubmit to the more specialized journal, and move on.

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Allow me to quote from the code of practice of a journal in my field, which (IMO) should apply everywhere:

Fragmentation of research papers should be avoided. Authors who fragment their work into a series of papers must be able to justify doing so on the grounds that it enhances scientific communication.

The practice of splitting papers up into "publons" (or minimum publishable unit) is a scourge. Get rid of the "two papers looks better than one" adage in your mind. It's not necessarily true, and can be detrimental to the science.

As it stands, you present no valid reason as to why splitting the papers up will improve how your work is communicated. Therefore, you shouldn't do so.

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    I disagree. Having two papers that are easier to read, understand and review is a perfectly valid reason for splitting up content. I do not at all get the gist from the OP that he wants to split up his papers into publons. – xLeitix Aug 21 '14 at 7:46
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    And, yes, for better or for worse, two full papers usually do look better on the CV than one. – xLeitix Aug 21 '14 at 7:46
  • @xLeitix I agree that easier to read papers are better. But the impression I got from the question was that there might be too many dependencies for the split to work. If multiple publications will be easier to read, then of course the large paper should be split. The decision to split or not to split should be based on what's best for presenting the science. – Moriarty Aug 21 '14 at 8:03
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    20 page papers aren't usually anywhere close to publons, but the desire to have more papers on your CV should be left out of the decision of how to publish your research. – Moriarty Aug 21 '14 at 8:09

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