I am a new graduate student and I am about to start writing my first paper. Some of my adviser's other students have been working on similar topic to what I have been working on and he has been pushing us to combine our results into one paper. However, I feel my results could be a paper on their own. I want to start beefing up my CV so that I can get extra funding and, hopefully down the road, a research position but I am afraid that if I am only a coauthor on a paper it won't look as good as if I am the sole author (especially since I worked completely on my own for my section).

So my question is: would it be better to try and publish a paper in which I am the sole author or would it be better to try and publish a slightly better paper in which I have 2 or 3 additional coauthors? Do funding selection committees and the like give precedence to people with papers that they are sole authors over ones who have coauthors?

Edit: My field is math, in case this matters.

  • 4
    Have you already asked your advisor? Jul 5, 2013 at 15:59
  • 6
    Why not do both? You write a paper with them as a co-author and they write a paper with you as a co-author. Win-win situation. The paper has some common grounds but your specialities hopefully vary enough so you can focus on different topics in-depth, thus having enough material for two papers.
    – gerrit
    Jul 5, 2013 at 17:01

5 Answers 5


You should really listen to what your advisor says. "...he has been pushing us to combine our results into one paper." That about says it. Your advisor knows what works and what doesn't work as a paper in your field. He also knows (presumably) about the scope of your work and how it fits into what you and the other students have been doing.

There is little downside to this. The importance of the paper to your career has far more to do with how well received the paper is than with how many authors there are. Having more authors means the paper is stronger, means you have a network of people to help rewrite and deal with any negative reviews you may get, and (as suggested in Peter's answers) it shows you can collaborate with others.

It would not hurt to bring this up with your advisor, make your point (ask your question), and see how the advisor reacts.

  • 1
    That last line (either you trust ... or not ... get a new advisor) is perhaps a bit extreme. There is room for some disagreement with an adviser being you need to find a new one. Jul 5, 2013 at 16:54

The way authorships count varies substantially between fields. You therefore need to figure out how things are in yours. Multi-author papers are commonplace in most fields today and in some (mine included) there is almost a negative to be sole author (it seems as if you do not collaborate). This view strongly depends on what kind of paper/study it is.

Anyway, benefits with co-authorships is that your name becomes associated with others. If it is only with your fellow graduate students, the value may be somewhat limited but if you are co-authoring with someone who is well known and respected, the value is much larger.

In your case, the way you have described it, it seems silly to put your research into another paper if it can stand alone. If the joint paper is likely to become a benchmark paper and get lots of attention, then being part of it may not be a bad idea. So you see that it really is a problem of assessing how you can optinise your gain from it as well as how much the science will gain from a colaborative paper where all parts are present. One way to resolve such issues is sometimes to write several papers where the group is present on all but where the first author varies so that your own work is accredited you but the joint effort is also acknowledged.

These kinds of decisions are always tricky and, in my opinion, depend on how the work can be divided up without losing strength and impact. You should definitely bring this to the table and discuss the options with your peers.

  • 8
    but if you are co-authoring with someone who is well known and respected, the value is much larger — This is not necessarily true. If you only publish with people who are well-known, you may develop a reputation for riding other people's coat-tails. (This is why I insist that my PhD students publish at least one paper without me before they finish.)
    – JeffE
    Jul 5, 2013 at 20:17
  • True. In this case it is from a graduate students perspective which of course deserves to be emphasized. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:19

The relevant questions should be: What have those other people done regarding your own research? Are their contributions worth adding them as coauthors? These are the questions that you should be thinking about. From what I read from your post, it seems to me that the other people did not contribute much to your research, and you feel that you should publish the paper on your own. What confuses you is "the dark side of the force:"

"Do funding selection committees and the like give precedence to people with papers that they are sole authors over ones who have coauthors?"

The thoughts that surround this question are very serious issues (c.f. the current ethical standards of academia), and you should think about it. I think the answer of the paraphrased question above should never be a determining factor on whether you should publish that paper on your own or with coauthors. You have to first form your own ethics depending on what you think is true/right/just, and pursue that direction regardless of the monetary/fundetary/titletary disadvantages that it brings within.

  • 1
    Although, you have a valid point, it does not quite pertain to the question at hand, which is what the pros and cons are of combining results in a joint paper.
    – TimRias
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:12

It is better to have a single-authored paper than a joint-authored paper. But it's better to have a joint-authored paper than nothing at all. Given the difficulty of getting papers published, joint is probably the way to go here.


I do not subscribe to single authorship. No man is an island. I strongly believe that there is power in team work (co-authorship) than single authors. You need to bring in different reasearchers from different faculties for you to have a QUALITY ARTICLE for publication.

  • 4
    So you say that John Nash's Nobel winning paper is low-quality because it's single-authorship? And that having a cat as a co-author increases the value of the paper?
    – user68958
    Oct 1, 2018 at 20:35
  • 2
    Steven Weinberg's A Model of Leptons turned out to be pretty important too...
    – Anyon
    Oct 1, 2018 at 20:46
  • 3
    I guess I’ll just toss out 20% of my papers then.
    – JeffE
    Oct 2, 2018 at 2:06
  • OP is in math. In math at least there are a lot of single author papers of very high quality. There are also others with other authors. There's no special reason to think that coauthors are necessary. Is it possible that you are making this conclusion because this is the norm in your field? If so, what is your field?
    – JoshuaZ
    Sep 12, 2019 at 11:21

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