Let's say I write a paper and use a result from someone that is rarely cited. Would it be polite/acceptable/unacceptable to email them and let them know of my application of their result before publishing my paper?

This would be primarily self-serving on my part, as I'd want to know if they see any other applications of their work to mine. But I don't want to come across as someone who's trying to leach ideas off of them. I'm open to collaboration.

What would be your reaction if you received an email saying something to the effect of:

Hey, I used result X from your paper from 10 years ago to show Y. Do you think other applications of your related work could apply to mine? Here are some of my questions, etc...

  • Is the researcher still active in that area? Do they have any more recent work that you should be citing? I presume not (for both), which probably means that they've moved on to other things and perhaps aren't well-placed to answer your questions. That said, send the mail anyway!
    – user2768
    Oct 8 '18 at 8:17

Citing another is in no way "leaching". It is the natural course of scholarship. It took a long time for my dissertation to be extended, but I was very happy when it occurred. I was, in a small way, an inspiration for another. That is what we do in academia.

Send the email. Moreover, wait and hope for a similar email to come to you in the future. Too seldom do we get to actually thank the people on whose work we build.

And if the person is still working in that field, asking for collaboration is completely proper. In my own example, I'd left the field and had nothing to contribute going forward, but it was still a nice feeling that someone, somewhere, still cared.

  • 6
    +1 Just yesterday I had an email from someone who'd read a paper of mine (and settled some conjectures, one yes one no). Made my day, Oct 7 '18 at 14:50

I have scientific publications. I'm always happy to hear someone is reading my work and am willing to discuss it further.

That said, I, in no way, expect to be contacted before hand (just properly cited).

With this, I would be unlikely to offer much insight into how my work may apply to yours. Researchers are busy, rattling off an email takes time and it simply isn't worth the energy unless there is the potential for collaboration.

In short, sure flick off an email but don't feel obligated to. Then don't worry about getting a reply, it may never come.


As per the other answers, yes, send the email, but I suggest that you don't jump in with a list of questions.

You could, if you are not sure, ask if they are still active / interested in the field then, if they come back positively, that might lead to collaboration...

  • 2
    It seems like a waste of time to email somebody to basically say, "Can I ask you a question?" Just ask the question and they'll decline to answer it if they don't want to. Oct 7 '18 at 16:04
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    @DavidRicherby the way the op put it, was “here are some of my questions”... so if there are 10 or so it is a bit imposing imho... but showing interest could be better...
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 7 '18 at 16:06
  • 1
    Yeah, OK. I agree that more than a couple of questions would be too much for a first email. Oct 7 '18 at 16:13

Write the author - but not the way you've suggested!

It sounds like you've written him:

Hello Prof XYZ. I'm citing your work so now you owe me. Please do some free work for me! Figure out what I'm working on, see whether any of your work applies, and summarize your findings for me so I could publish more.

No no no no no, don't send that kind of a message.

I suggest that:

  • You greet them
  • You mention how them work on ABC has been inspirational for you, or how it attracted you to study ABC further etc.
  • Tell them that you've been able to show whatever you've shown, and that X from their paper was key to achieving Y / helped lay the foundations for Z / gave you the idea to establish Y.
  • If you want to ask him whether they explored a specific research direction X' following their work on X, ask.
  • Don't ask them to do something for you. That might be relevant once you've established a rapport - and probably not even then. You can ask them for a suggestion regarding something to read; or for documents they have access to and you don't.

Seeking input for further research is in general a good idea. It could be beneficial for the other group, too.

If in doubt, wait with your email after your paper is accepted or even published.

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