In my field (economics), there are many co-authored papers. People are even writing some chapters of their PhD thesis with other colleagues.

I know that single-authored papers are more appreciated when you are a Ph.D. student and when you are in the job market.

Until now, I always prefered writing my papers alone. This is not because I did not want to interact with people but I did not really want to be dependant on other people during my Ph.D. (I know that some projects take so much time to be accomplished since everybody has its own research agenda.)

I wonder if writing papers (or chapters of a Ph.D. thesis) always alone is a bad sign on a CV? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

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    I am in engineering, I was told having 1 sole author paper every 1-2 years is a good thing. I see most of my colleagues following this trend too. – The Guy May 21 '18 at 14:54
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    Ideally, I think is better for anyone to publish alone. In practice, this isn't always possible. Biology research usually involved a good amount of testing and thus it needs to be performed by several people. I think is rare to see people who work mostly on their ow except in humanities, and sometimes (but nowadays it is also rare) in mathematics. There is also a permanent need to have more and more published papers. I've had many teachers complaint about this publication frenzy, but it is unavoidable when it has so much influence in getting a research position. – M.S May 21 '18 at 18:27

The advantage of writing with someone else, someone more experienced in particular, is that you may end up publishing quicker since you're not doing all of the work. It can also allow you to write papers that you may not be able to write on your own assuming the co-author(s) bring(s) something to the table that you can't offer. For graduate students, it is a good idea to write their first paper with someone more seasoned so that they also get advice on the logistics of publishing a paper (how to pick the right venue, how to write the cover letter when you submit, how to respond to reviewers - some of these an advisor can help with regardless of co-authorship, but a co-author will be more invested). In some fields, it may be frowned upon that you have no co-authored papers as it may signal a bad relationship with an advisor or that you are generally hard to work with. This part is completely field-dependent. The downside of having too many co-authored papers is that people may wonder whether you can work independently.

  • "end up publishing quicker" This certainly sounds good, but in my experience, the opposite is true. For most publications, the majority of the start-to-finish time is consumed by waiting for collaborators. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 6 '20 at 6:33

Many types of research simply cannot be done by a single person. Likewise, there are career advantages to being perceived as one who collaborates effectively. Let's set that aside, however, and just consider the sort of projects that might be done either alone or by a team.

My experience has been that writing papers alone is great when you want to focus down on some particular technical point that you kind of understand already and have all the tools in hand to develop and refine. I put one out along those lines on average about once every year or so. Such a paper can be a joy to work on for all the reasons you might guess, and there is never any question of relative contribution.

If you do only that, however, you will likely find yourself becoming intellectually isolated and unproductive. In science, as in every other endeavor, Joy's Law applies: "no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."

We humans think better when we work with good partners. Finding those good partners can be challenging, and most of us have lots of frustrating experiences while we figure out which collaborators are both sympatico and reliable. A good collaboration, however, will make you smarter, make your work better, and result in higher impact simply because you are bringing together more knowledge, more resources, more perspectives, and different strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, as you grow in your career, you will likely hit a point where you have more projects you want to pursue than time available for you to pursue them alone. Collaborators interested in helping you pursue those ideas thus become indispensable for their ability to increase the number of "getting things done" hours on your project---especially ones like students, postdocs, and staff who look to you for direction.

Bottom line: mix it up, weighting your single- vs. multi-author blend based on your personality and discipline, shifting to more multi-author papers as your career goes on.


I actually do my papers alone. I do them because I have a problem working with others. I don't want them to be upset with me due to my work, so that's why I do it alone.

Part of the reason is so that I don't depend much on people and can develop the skills needed through struggling through it. I'm a bit stressed thinking I opted to do my papers alone, but hopefully, this decision will help me out in the long run.

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    What field? This is an impossibility in some. – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 4 '20 at 17:00

I would judge it career-wise as a bigger advantage only if you apply for jobs in industry or permanent positions in academia and your publications are in renowned journals with a tough review. Otherwise it rather points to the inability/abhorrence to work in teams and comply with division of labour, which is of course becoming more and more pronounced the more high-tech industry and science evolves towards higher complexity.

So it can prove that you are someone who can plan, conduct and report/sell new interesting research, that you can solve problems totally alone, this is something seldom even among PhD graduates who mostly have their professor/advisor or collaborators as co-author. But if you have only one sole author paper every 3-5 years and not much more I think you would look rather lazy.

Concerning an academic career it's crucial to publish after your PhD without your advisor and also have important first-author publications. If there are several recurring co-authors, but you are often the first, it also highlights your excellence and that someone is not publishing within a citation cartel.

So the context and timeline within you have sole or first author papers is much more important than sole/co-authors from my point of view. If a field is very broad and deep sole author papers could also suggest then that you have an over average broad and deep knowledge in comparison to many specialists.


I think this question poses the problem correctly as pros vs. cons. There is no "one size fits all" solution to this. I personally work mostly by myself, which is becoming rare these days, so I can write with some experience on this. I think most people are too biased towards group work.

Pros of writing papers alone:

  • You can work on topics that you find interesting that others don't find interesting. There are essentially no people interested in some of the topics I'm interested in. I'm working on a research project right now and I honestly have only a vague idea who might make a good reviewer, much less a collaborator. I'd love to collaborate on that project but I don't think there's anyone interested.
  • Some researchers will outright reduce the quality of your work. Collaborating with them is a bad idea. I'm not the only one who thinks this:

When I write a paper, I have to deal with co-authors who push for putting in false or misleading material that makes the paper look good and my ability to push back against this has been fairly limited. On my blog, I don't have to deal with that and I can write up results that are accurate (to the best of my ability) even if it makes the result look less interesting or less likely to win an award.

  • Papers with many authors can lack a unified vision due to "design by committee". Papers with one or two authors might typically be more focused and consistent.
  • You're less likely to deal with unscrupulous people taking credit for your work.

Cons of writing papers alone:

  • Many people will judge you for working alone. You don't have to look far to see this! Check out user48953094's answer to this very question which speculates that people who tend to work alone are antisocial (no evidence provided). I once received a referee report where the reviewer said that they were suspicious that the paper was written by a single author as if single authorship alone was something to be suspicious about. My guess was that they meant to imply that I'm not giving credit where it's due. But they never explicitly said that. In response I said that I am indeed the sole author and gave the contact information for my supervisor with a recommendation for the reviewer to ask the editor to verify. To my knowledge the reviewer never did. (I try to have a rather copious amount of acknowledgments now to help rebuff this perception.)

What depends on the situation or I don't think is true:

  • Others have pointed out that with more authors, you're more likely to be aware of more literature. That is true, all else equal. But I think a better strategy in most cases is to do in-depth literature surveys on your own. For me, it's quite rare to hear from someone else of a good paper in a subfield that I'm doing research in because I've done a quite in-depth literature survey. Most of the time, when people recommend papers to me, I've already heard of the paper. Of course, I can understand if the research is interdisciplinary and it's actually very difficult for any one person to know all relevant things. But if that criteria is not satisfied, consider simply doing better literature surveys rather than collaborating.
  • Turtle mentions that you might publish faster with co-authors because the work is divided up. That's not always true. In my experience the communication overhead and other bottlenecks often slow the process down more than if I worked alone. (You can make analogies with parallel programming.) I think we all have been waiting for someone to finish their part of a project where we could have done that part on our own. The more people involved in a project, the higher the probability of waiting. In the end, it depends strongly on the situation. Related: Brooks's law
  • There is a negative correlation between the number of authors of a paper and a readability proxy. However, this effect seems to be caused by readability decreasing over time independent of the number of authors.

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