I submitted two articles to two journals as corresponding author in short succession. Now, I got back the referees' comments to the first one and I am facing a problem: A referee requested us to do more experiments and claimed that the article lacked experimental evidence in a certain aspect.

Actually, these experiments were already carried out, but were described in the other article that is more focussed on the experimental part of our studies (while the first one is more of a general proof of concept).

Obviously, I am facing a dilemma now: I don't think I can use the experimental results the referee requested in my first article, because I would be committing self-plagiarism. On the other hand, if I do not use those results, I fear the referee might reject the article.

A colleague suggested to tell the referee exactly that and show him/her the pre-print of the second article. But that does not really change the fact that my article seems to lack experimental evidence?

I could argue that these requested experiments/results are not essential to the submission. But I already kind of evaded the other big remark of the referee, thus almost changing nothing in my article. I feel this might be insulting to the referee, especially because I think he/she did a good job and really took time to review the article.

What do you guys think is the right course of action here? How do I argue my case best so that the referee is pleased? Could I cite the pre-print of my second article in the first article? Or can I reference in the article that there are experiments to be released in another submission that will handle the topic the referee spoke about?

  • You may want to distinguish two situations: A) the referee is missing experimental evidence, B) the referee consider your manuscript too short, uncooked or underdeveloped, therefore asking for more work. In case of A citing other paper with the proof is a perfect answer, even if that other manuscript is not accepted yet. In case B.. you can pretend it is case A.
    – Greg
    Feb 10 '17 at 15:28
  • As an aside, the reviewers comment may be an indication of inadvertently falling into the Least Publishable Unit trap (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Least_publishable_unit). In general, it is better to have one really solid paper, than two, neither of which is sufficient in themselves. Essentially if the additional results were required to convince the reviewer, that suggests they should have been in the paper already. The impression LPU publication gives is not a good one. If papers closely related, submit both to the same journal. Feb 11 '17 at 18:59

I think the normal thing to do is to forward-reference the experimental results.

That is, you can briefly outline the experimental results as per the current referee's desire for more information, and reference it as "paper submitted to xyz journal, 2/9/2017." Down the road, if the experimental paper turns out to be accepted before the theory paper, all the better and you can actually reference it as such.

As a caveat, it may also be true that either paper is too thin for separate publication, and the two should be combined into one. This sounds like what the referee is getting at. From your point of view, having one strong paper may be more desirable than two weak ones.

Finally, most often I have seen two papers of this type published back-to-back in the same journal. But even if this is appropriate here it sounds like it may be a bit late to go this route, unless you were to withdraw one and resubmit the pair. (BTW, If you do this, an explanation to all the editors involved should definitely be included in your correspondence.)

  • Thank you for your answer! Personally, I think both papers can stand on their own, but there is some minimal overlap, of course. I will think abotu the forward-referencing. Combining the publications is out of question, because it would get too large. I will not mark it as an answer, yet, to see what other people suggest.
    – Ian
    Feb 10 '17 at 7:43
  • Depending on the culture of your field and the journals' policies, it might also be appropriate to post a preprint of the more experimentally-oriented paper. This will give the referee confidence that the experimental aspects will be available in the future, and are not going to go unpublished, leaving the current paper without key support.
    – AJK
    Feb 10 '17 at 18:15

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