I am currently in the process of turning my math doctoral thesis into articles to submit to journals. This is my first time writing anything mathematical for publication.

My thesis was on the long-side, and referenced a lot of background material from areas of math that do not often communicate. (The principle field is topology, but it draws heavily on some specific corners of algebra, number theory and relativity theory that most topologists do not study.) It also has a historical component and the first result is a completion of a somewhat archaic classical idea. I then go on to develop that idea to obtain results pertinent to current active research.

Due to this, as well as the common advice of not making an article too long (especially one's first article), I am breaking my results into two articles. The first one will say something about what I intend to do in the second for motivational purposes, and lay all the groundwork, but is focused on generalizing a classical theorem. Then the second will focus on results more relevant to current topology, referencing results form the first but not weighed down by them.

My question is about what I should include in my setup at the beginning of the second article. I summarize a bunch of standard ideas at the beginning of my first article, which really does need to be there because it is not typical for someone working in any one of the fields to be familiar with the other concepts. I also introduce notation. Then in my second article I use all the same stuff, plus some more.

Is it okay to leave out a repetition of that background info, and refer the reader to my first article? I figure I should re-define any original or unusual notation, but I don't want to have all that repetition in the first section of both articles. On the other hand, I want people to read the second one, and not be off-put by being referred to the first one, or feel the background is not well established.

Is there a standard protocol for writing a series of two or more articles that develop a concept continuously, which draw upon the same set of background definitions and theorems? Would it be better to just write one very long article after all?

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    – eykanal
    Oct 5, 2016 at 3:55
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    I think the best person who can answer your questions is your advisor. If you really think that two separate articles is the best way, then in the second one you do need to include at least the notation. You can definitely refer to your first paper for background or other content. Now, it seems to me that your results are really one big chunk of stuff that should go into a single paper. If you divide in two, you risk the first one to be a little un-substantial. Perhaps a good idea would be: long thesis, and abridged version in the form of a longish article. Or a small book as well.
    – dbluesk
    Oct 27, 2016 at 15:45
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    A good example of a respected author(s) with a series of articles like this? Neil Robertson and Paul Seymour, Graph Minors I – XXIII. (Most of these have subtitles.) Their big theorem is eventually proved in Graph Minors XX: Wagner's Conjecture. Nov 3, 2016 at 17:15
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    @dbluesk It was my advisor who suggested that I turn the thesis into 2 articles. It's difficult to explain exactly why this is a good idea without delving into the mathematical details, but I guess I'd like people to take that part on assumption and just help me out with the aspects I specifically asked about. You've got a good point that he is the one to ask about that too, but my PhD career was a little strange in that I was given a lot of independence. Rather than solving a known problem I developed my own construction that I thought was interesting... which has lead to such complications.
    – j0equ1nn
    Nov 6, 2016 at 3:24
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    @j0eq1nn: I don't think they actually had a proof of Wagner's conjecture when they published part I. But they certainly knew they were writing a series of papers that would form the foundations of the theory of graph minors—parts II through V are referenced in part I as "submitted", and I suspect they knew the results in the next few papers already. Nov 6, 2016 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


Each journal article should "tell a story". Break the thesis up into coherent stories.

It looks like you're already doing that. The first article concentrates on generalizing the classical theorem, and the second gives the results that are relevant to current research.

I would suggest just putting the groundwork you need for the generalization of the classical theorem into the first article (unless you can save a lot of space by developing some of the groundwork for the second article at the same time as the groundwork for the first). And you should definitely mention the second article to provide more motivation for the groundwork. But putting groundwork that's not needed in this first article will detract from the "story".

In the second article, you should include a quick review of the groundwork developed in the first article, and refer the reader to the first article if they want more details. Then add the extra groundwork needed for the second article, and proceed to the results of the second article.

One comment from experience: if you put a result that does not fit the "story" into a paper, when people read your paper, they are very likely not to even notice this result. So it's much better to put it in a separate paper.

On the other hand, as you can tell from the comments here, many people consider it bad form to spread one story over two papers. So you should split a long result into several papers only if you can formulate it as several related "stories".

  • Some time had gone by since my post, and many revisions later I've ended up doing much of what you recommend. So it's nice to see it recommended by someone who is experienced. In defense of 2 articles rather than 1, I really do have two different stories and moreover, they appeal to different audiences.
    – j0equ1nn
    Nov 6, 2016 at 0:45

You have several considerations here. First, where will you publish? It sounds lengthily, and a two-parter will take up valuable real estate, so I'll start by suggesting you send some pre-prints/feelers out beforehand to journals to gauge interest. These pre-submission inquiries can save you tons of time and may even grease the wheels. It would help if both parts were published together in the same journal, but I've seen cases where parts I and II appear in different publications, sometimes with considerable lapse in time. Working the field beforehand will give you an idea how this is going to go.

In terms of a standard format, I've never heard of one, but in general I find some consistency. One is that they are often named 'Theory of things I: A solution to bob's paradox'. Then 'Theory of things II: Extension to Wendy'. Besides the conjecture (I've heard) that titles with colons get higher citation counts, this course adds a certain gravitas that can't be overlooked.

Next, both articles need to be able to stand alone as a piece of work. It's not feasible to do part I as background and II as the theory or solution, but it sounds like you're already preparing for this. Lay out your background and first contribution in part I. Hopefully, part I will be very intriguing and whet interest for part II. Then, in part II, refer to pt I extensively but don't be shy about reprinting very important parts that are integral to comprehending the current (pt2) material. For example, an equation might be reprinted (and referenced) while a general idea might just be referenced to your original paper. If you've played the pre-submission inquiry well, you might already have some leniency on space constraints, so use them.

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