Hope that the following soft question is still appropriate on MathOverflow. I was wondering if there is any communal protocol or etiquette with regard to the resubmission of a research paper after it has been superseded by another as yet unpublished paper.

Here's the situation in detail. Suppose that a paper of yours, call it paper A, regarding the existence of some mathematical object foobar has been rejected by some journal X. Before you received the news of rejection of paper A by journal X, you obtained bounds on the complexity of foobar and submitted these complexity estimates as paper B to journal Y. Given that paper B is still pending the refereeing process, would you resubmit paper A to another journal X'? Is it unethical to do so?

Of course, one question is what is the worth of paper A, given that it has been superseded by paper B. One possible factor to take into consideration is that paper B is substantially longer than paper A (in my case paper B about 40 pp. and paper A is about 20 pp.). There may be readers interested in the existence argument of paper A without bothering about the complexity estimates in paper B.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess it fits better in "Academia". Anyway, if the proofs are running on completely different ideas, I see absolutely nothing wrong with trying to publish both (whatever approach seems weaker in your hands may turn out to be superior in someone else's hands). On the other hand, if B is essentially the same story as A, just with extra tweaks, I wouldn't bother to publish A. I doubt there are any strict "etiquette rules" about this beyond the common sense and even the common sense depends on the person and the circumstances, so just do as you feel appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Dec 15, 2016 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps paper A can be thought of as a simpler proof of a simpler statement which acts as an instructive simpler version of paper B. In that case there is, at least, some didactic value in publishing paper A. That might not be enough to get it published in a research journal, but it might be enough to get it published in a conference proceedings. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Mosher
    Dec 15, 2016 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Fedja Paper B is based on the same story of paper A. However, some lemmas in paper A make existence claims, which had to be replaced by arguments from first principles in order to obtain the complexity estimates in paper B. $\endgroup$
    – user94803
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ If you do resubmit paper A, it should reference paper B and you should explain why you are submitting paper A when the main results have been improved in paper B. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you everyone for your detailed comments and responses. Perhaps one way out to reduce this overlap is to try to modify paper A by proving existence of a generalized toolbar, without any complexity estimates. Then the generalized existence paper of this modified paper would not follow from the result in paper B. $\endgroup$
    – user94803
    Dec 15, 2016 at 23:54

4 Answers 4


This is a tricky situation, though just one spin off of the current absurd state of academic publishing, and particularly the preposterously slow and uneven peer review process in math. My personal feeling is that you should try about as hard to get paper A published as you would any other paper (though strategically, I would probably submit to a somewhat less selective journal). It does feel a little silly; I actually now am in the doubled version of this situation, where I wrote a paper, wrote another that superseded it, and then wrote another that superseded that one, all of which are under review simultaneously at the moment. The process in mathematics has gotten a bit silly just generally, but any reason you had to publish paper A before (whether it is padding your CV, making sure that it is regarded as a reliable part of the peer reviewed literature, or hoping to get useful feedback from a referee) is equally in force now, so I don't see what has really changed.

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    $\begingroup$ So I really think it comes down to the question of whether paper A has separate worth to the community despite being in some sense superseded. (The OP indicated one possible source of worth in the question.) $\endgroup$
    – Nik Weaver
    Dec 15, 2016 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @NikWeaver Perhaps "padding" isn't such a tasteful word for it, but let's face it, the main reason people bother with the publishing process nowadays is to get jobs/promotions (given that its actual content distribution effect is basically zero). So if paper A served that purpose before paper B existed, it still does. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Webster
    Dec 15, 2016 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ The very goal of the publishing process is first to have mathematical results checked, second to provide long term archival of those mathematical results. I would prefer that this process be not be polluted by essentially bureaucratic considerations such as jobs/promotions, whose main outcome is to have too many papers read by too few mathematicians. I believe it is the duty of search committees to get informed about the mathematical achievements of the candidates, by understanding them, independently of their publishing state. $\endgroup$
    – ACL
    Dec 15, 2016 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ACL - I trust ArXiv for long term archival better than many journals. As for getting results checked, let's just say the quality of refereeing is rather uneven. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ACL : If there were literally no jobs in mathematics then the number of mathematical results would drop by a couple of orders of magnitude because nobody would be obtaining the results in the first place. While I agree that we need to prevent the hiring and promotion process from producing incorrect results and/or losing archives, it is naive to think that the publishing process can be entirely detached from "bureaucratic considerations." $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 3:39

Yes, you should resubmit. Research is a journey, and having both papers published creates a record which can help others who are tracing the steps of your journey.


There is nothing unethical in resubmitting your rejected paper to another journal. If you wrote a paper B which contains a stronger result, and does not use the result of A, you may of course decide not to publish A. But if you feel that A still contains something interesting which is not in B, re-submit it. However there is a chance, that the new referee of A will know about B, and recommend to reject A.

The situation becomes even more complicated if B is not your paper but of someone else. In which case you may loose the priority. An excellent remedy against this is posting on the arXiv all papers before you submit them.


There is reasonable chance that these papers will be refereed by the same person. Unless both papers are a pleasure to read, you might be unleashing a justified fury of someone who had to do the same hard (and unpaid) job twice.

On the other hand, I think that the good way to deal with this is to make sure that the overlap of A and B is minimal, and publish A as a preprint (arXiV springs to mind as the right place; I would say, publish B as a preprint, too). In case it's too late, and B contains most of A, I would expect the situation in the 1st paragraph, which would result in both A and B being tainted in editor's views.


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