The short answer to this question is ‘yes’. ‘Yes, absolutely’. You are free to submit as many papers as you wish to the same journal so long as they are different, the content does not significantly overlap, and the articles don’t contradict one another. What do we mean by ‘different’? Think papers that deal with different experiments, topics, or questions so that the works do not overlap and could therefore be regarded as ‘duplicate’ publications. It’s totally ok then to have a series of articles ‘in process’ with one journal so long as they are on different topics.
There is actually an advantage to submitting different work to the same journal again and again, perhaps with more than one paper in the system at the same time: reputation. If you develop a good reputation for quality with a particular journal then your papers are likely to move faster through their system and have a higher chance of acceptance. An editor will think ‘I remember this author. Their last work was good and got accepted. Perhaps this one will as well’.
Indeed, many successful academic authors follow a ‘channel approach’ to publishing many of their articles. This is one standard way of working. They will have a list of journals in their field ranked by impact factors and then they’ll work down the list: so, in my case, an initial submission to Proceedings of the Royal Society (IF = ca. 5), if rejected, would have been followed by a second submission to Journal of Evolutionary Biology (IF = ca. 3). I worked with this channel primarily because the two journals use similar formats and so minimising the work involved in resubmissions. This approach can work well.
Submitting very similar work to the same journal is almost certain to lead to both papers getting rejected. Similarly, another bad strategy (but one nevertheless used by a surprisingly large number of authors) is to ‘double dip’, sending duplicate versions of the same paper to two, or more, journals at the same time. Authors then wait to see which gets accepted first and then pull out the others. This is an unethical and risky strategy and one which editors are well aware of and tuned in to: Sudden withdrawals of papers from journals always raise warning flags for editors and you can expect to be asked to give details as to why you want to unsubmit your paper.
At the end of the day, it’s good to have as many papers submitted to journals as possible at the same time because this will maximise your turnover as a publishing researcher. It’s important, however, to make sure that your papers address different topics and are put together following ethical guidelines.
Post by Gareth Dyke, Editor-in-Chief of Biosis: Biological Systems (Published by EAPG), and Historical Biology (Published by Taylor and Francis).