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Please don’t write multiple-part papers!

August 26, 2011 Filed under Blog, Featured, Reviewing, Writing 

I’ve talked about this topic of writing multiple-part papers before. Earlier this year, I published an article about what the data show from Monthly Weather Review.

Schultz, D. M., 2011: Rejection rates for multiple-part manuscripts. Scientometrics, 86, 251-259. [PDF]

I found that although the rejection rates for multiple-part manuscripts were not that different from the rejection rates for manuscripts as a whole, the reviewer comments about multiple-part manuscripts suggested some ways that authors could avoid those problems in the first place:

“Write manuscripts that are sensibly independent of each other, make minimal reference to unsubmitted manuscripts, and have sufficient and substantiated scientific content within each manuscript.”

Since doing that research, I’ve had discussions with several authors before submission, and I am proud to say that I’ve convinced them to follow a different course: writing sensible manuscripts that are independent of each other. We still get cases of multiple-part manuscripts coming in, though. They are a pain to handle.

Recently, I became aware of a case where Part 1 was submitted to one journal, and Part 2 was submitted to another journal. Part 2 was accepted, yet Part 1 is still in review. This kind of outcome just complicates matters for everyone: authors, editors, reviewers, publishers and readers. Who is the winner here? Is labeling your papers as part of a multiple-part series really worth all this hassle at all stages: peer-review, publication, and post-publication?

What are the indications that you are going to struggle with peer review with your multiple-part paper? (With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy.)

If your two manuscripts are so intertwined that Part I refers to Part II as much as Part II refers back to Part I, you may have a problem in peer review.

If you started writing a paper, only to realize that you have more than the required word-count that you want to say and so start writing a second paper, you may have a problem in peer review.

Simply put, writing a multiple-part manuscript is not easy. Balancing material between the two parts, yet providing enough information so that the reviewers believe they have all the evidence is not easy.

Since publishing that article, I have thought more about what the results from my article in Scientometrics mean. My impression is that high-quality authors could navigate the potential minefield pretty well. They were clever enough to avoid the pitfalls. Mediocre authors struggled to get published because of the particular challenges that writing multiple-part papers required. And, low-quality authors who had trouble getting their single-submission papers published in the first place had little hope of getting a multiple-part paper published.

Personally, I can’t see the benefit in writing multiple-part papers for myself, but I see why some people do it. (Frankly, I think a lot of authors just do it because they have seen it in the literature and do the same thing. In fact, a lot of the literature has that flavor…it worked for Author A, must work for me the same way!)

Some journals ban multiple-part papers. Is it time for the AMS journals to abolish multiple-part papers?

Should journals ban multiple-part papers?

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