Aside from the outcome, one of the interesting things about my recent journal submission, was the amount of time spent on the paper before submission. A coauthor and I worked on this paper with varying degrees of intensity for over five years. To put this in context, between the paper’s inception and its completion, we both took our comprehensive exams and started and completed our dissertations. In the years between, our paper spent time on every burner.
It seems that the most frequently-discussed burner is the back burner, but I would characterize the early stages of our project as time spent on the side burner. During this time, we made some progress on the paper every week or two. This also describes the time immediately after our data collection was complete. During data collection, there were times when our paper was on the front burner and received our undivided attention. Following data collection and the completion of complete drafts, however, our paper was frequently moved to the back burner while things like the aforementioned comprehensive exams and dissertations occupied our time. During this time our paper also periodically spent a day or two on the front burner when one of us became motivated to make some progress. The summer was also a period in which our paper was on the front burner as we prepared it for submission.
While I would not recommend allowing your projects to spend so much time on the back burner (especially if you work at a research institution!), there are some ways that these long delays may have contributed to our paper’s eventual acceptance. Putting the paper away for long periods of time necessitated that when we did work on the paper we had to familiarize ourselves with it once again. Looking at the paper with fresh eyes allowed us to recognize the weaknesses in our paper. My work this summer, for example, started with the idea that I would make some minor adjustments before publication and ended with a nearly complete reorganization of the introduction and literature review.
It is possible (and perhaps even likely) that our paper would have been accepted and published by now (even if rejections had preceded this publication) if we had submitted it in a lesser form several years ago. Regardless, the fact that our longer-than-ideal time frame may have worked to our advantage suggests that others who have potential publications simmering on the back burner should move them to the front burner and send them out.