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This is a tough question. I have set papers aside for two years ... and then picked them up when I was better able to write them. But I have in fact discarded a few papers over the years. It is just part of the writing and research process. Some research ideas lead to dead ends, in science and in philosophy.

Robert A Gressis

I got my Ph.D. in July 2007, I think. I've published fifteen papers; I have four drafts that are currently idle.


I abandon almost nothing (except some work I did as a graduate student). If it gets as developed as the paper the OP describes, I keep sending it out. I may take some lengthy breaks, but I keep sending it.

But I leave a lot of *ideas* on the cutting room floor.

I'm four years post-PhD.

Douglas W. Portmore

This is a tough question. I've only once totally abandoned a paper. But there have been several times when one of my submissions has morphed into something so different that I could, in good conscience, send it out to one of the journals that I had previously sent its ancestor to. In the best case scenario, a paper becomes too large and unwieldy and breaks up into two or three separate papers. But other times I realize that what's most interesting about the original submission is not its actual focus but something else entirely -- e.g., an argument for a premise in the paper's main argument or an assumption that I was making in the paper. In that case, I end up abandoning two-thirds or more of the original paper and develop the other third into a new paper with a different focus. Once I even changed from arguing that P to arguing that not-P, as I was convinced by objections that reviewers and commentators had made. But there was, I believed, enough still interesting in what had been leading me astray to develop that into a paper. That said, I suspect that I abandon fewer papers than others do given that I tend to write papers that are pieces in some larger (book-length) project. Given that, I can't just abandon a project altogether without abandoning the larger project of which this sub-project is just one piece in the puzzle. In any case, my advice is take the reviews you get seriously, but if despite them, you still feel that you're on to something important, than soldier on and just try to find a way to package your ideas that will make them more palatable to the kinds of referees that you're getting. If, however, the reviewers do convince you that the project doesn't have merit, then abandon the project and don't look back. But, ultimately, you should be looking to yourself as the highest authority about what's worth doing.


I have published 12 papers. The majority of my papers are published in Leiter's top 25 general journals. When I get several rejections for a paper, I usually try to make a weaker claim in the paper (like: "conditional on this contentious claim X, I will defend Y"). This usually works, especially if you are willing to publish your paper in a less prestigious journal. But I have abandoned 3 manuscripts for the following reasons: (i) I got scooped; (ii) a referee found a fatal flaw in the argument; (iii) a referee made me realize that, even if I were right, this wouldn't be very interesting.


My ratio is about 5:1. For every 5 papers I publish, there's 1 that is abandoned. But I have abandoned for a variety of reasons: couldn't find an journal to publish it; I'm not longer interested in the project; I think the paper needs work I don't want to do; etc.

Shay Logan

I’m super surprised by how little y’all ditch your papers. I ditch papers constantly, at every stage of development.

I ditch em when they’re new
I ditch em when they’re old.
I even ditch after peer review
So I’ve likely ditched some gold.

I’ve ditched more than I can count.
I ditch far more than I save.
I just like to throw stuff out;
I’ll be a ditcher til the grave.


If you have trouble placing a paper, sometimes inviting a coauthor to revise and suggest a venue can help.


I have 18 published papers, and about 18 papers that I finished writing but decided not to publish

Phil Osopher

I am the OP. I should probably have said: I have 19 peer-reviewed publications, in addition to a smattering of invited chapters and editorial work.

The answers have been really illuminating. Thank you.

Overseas Tenured

I abandoned a paper only once (during grad school) because I became convinced that its central argument was flawed and unfixable. However, I never abandoned a paper only because it kept getting rejected. Referees are often wrong, and sometimes they are wrong en masse. I just keep sending them until they find a home. I use what Marcus calls the "waterfall" method, always starting very high and moving down only very slowly. Experience tells me that sooner or later every paper finds a decent home, no matter how long it takes and how many times it's rejected. It all boils down to patience. (I have ~20 published papers, in journals ranging from tippy-top to pretty decent.)


It probably goes without saying, but isn't the whole "keep sending out a paper until it is accepted" approach one reason why the review/publication system is in such a terrible state? I understand the approach if one is yet to secure a position, but if you have a permanent post, why bother clogging up the system? I just don't see the value in bothering to publish papers that lots of presumptively competent reviewers reject and, even if it is accepted, is unlikely to be read by many people. If you think it's good, but others disagree, just post it on your website or email to people who might like to read it.

(I'm probably wrong in asserting this view, but one of the best things I think that people with secure posts can do to help junior colleagues is to publish a lot less than they do. One response might be "but I need to publish for promotion" - but I don't know a promotion committee in the world that requires you to publish more than a couple of papers a year, at most).

Double puzzled

Puzzled ...
You hit the nail on the head. The system is clogged ... of course ... people send the same Sh@tty paper out to journal after journal, after journal. And then they publish it in a low ranking journal from which they themselves have never read a single paper in their life. And then they ask, why are people not citing my papers? And then they say the system is not fair ... Really, it is fair, you can publish any Sh@tty paper on earth, if you keep sending it out.


Dear puzzleds,

The same sort of concern can be raised about grad students publishing, or students from non-T6 departments pursuing a PhD (let alone having the temerity to apply for jobs!), and I think they're just as misapplied. In general, I don't think that constricting the supply side of things is a productive response once the glut is so large and entrenched.

My papers are great (according to me!), and I put *a lot* of work into them before each resubmission. They get placed in fantastic journals whose output I follow, and their prominent placement helps to keep my subfield visible to other philosophers, and to showcase the fantastic work I cite. That, in turn, helps to make it possible for others to publish on similar topics in those journals (it's fairly rare for the subfield to be represented in many of those journals).

I have a permanent (but somewhat precarious) gig with zero research obligations--but I love my research community, and engaging with them is one of the main joys of my work life. That's also why I have volunteered so much of my time for my subfield association, including organizing several of its annual and divisional meetings.

In return for clogging the system, I referee *a lot*. And I turn my reports around quickly. And my reports are meticulous and *kind*, unlike so many I've received.

I guess that's why I feel entitled to take up the space I take, despite not needing it, strictly speaking.

Now, I'm junior, but I expect that much the same is true for people throughout the academic hierarchy.

Overseas Tenured

I suppose the two puzzled comments were directed at me, so here's a brief answer: no, I don't feel bad at all about "clogging the system", for a number of reasons.

First, I frankly don't care that a number of presumptively competent referees rejected my paper. I'm competent too, I carefully considered their reasons, and I either found them to be poor reasons to reject the paper or used them to revise the paper to my satisfaction.

Second, I never published anything in a journal from which I don't regularly read papers. In fact, there's virtually no correlation between how widely cited a paper of mine is and how many times I had to submit it before it got published.

Third, even "good but not top" journals have acceptance rates of only around 10%. Moreover, even my least successful papers found a home within 10 submissions, which means that even my least successful papers clog the journals where I send them less than average.

Fourth, no, I and others aren't hurting anyone by "clogging the system". If all of us already with tenure collectively stopped submitting, it would simply become that much easier for everyone untenured to publish in the fancy journals. Accordingly, the marginal value of every publication in these journals would decrease. The job market is a zero-sum game, and in the end the same (small) number of tenure-track jobs would remain available to the same large number of qualified candidates, just this time with a higher average number of publications. I don't see how this would improve the overall situation.

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