Research has become more and more complex and difficult to be successfully conducted by a single person. However, there are fields (such as some branches of engineering) in which a researcher can conduct pretty high standard research without wasting anybody's time or resources (for example, using opensource software on his/her own laptop over a couple of months during the weekends). Nevertheless, single author papers are very rare. How is this possible? I am asking because I believe I have produced a pretty interesting manuscript with no sort of help from anyone, but I am afraid it will be frowned upon by my past close collaborators and the PI of the project I am currently working on if I try to publish it.

  • In most cases, the cost of software for which there is an opensource alternative is not going to make a huge difference in the cost of engineering research. – puppetsock Nov 5 '19 at 17:57
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    It would be an extremely strange culture of a discipline where people are discouraged from publishing good results they have just because of having done the work alone. I’m not from engineering so I can’t say for sure it’s not the case where you are, but the premise smells very fishy to me. I’m guessing the answer to your title question is a pretty clear cut “no”, although if you are in some corrupt or dysfunctional place there might be some truth to your assessment. – Dan Romik Nov 5 '19 at 19:30

I think there is no universal answer. There are fields of pure mathematics where single author papers are quite frequent (the majority?) while there are other areas of the sciences (e.g., the biomedical field) that are so broad that nobody has the requisite knowledge and time to do everything themselves.

So it depends on the field you're in. But beyond that, every field has single-author papers, and a single paper isn't going to make others put you in a box: it is, after all, just a single paper. People will turn out to be surprised if you have been in a field (any field!) for ten years, written 30 papers, and 25 of those are single-authored. For a single paper, there really is no rule to go by: If you have a good idea that you've entirely developed yourself, go write it up and get it published!


This answer should be qualified. Do you have a contract of any kind at the place you are working? Does your work agreement have anything to say about publishing research? You should look carefully at that before submitting any paper.

The questions that get asked regarding publication are things like: Is it new, at least in some aspect? Is it interesting? Is it generally in the subject line of the journal? And is it the work of the person submitting it for publication?

If you have run with an idea that the group was working on, that might get you some dark looks. But, if it's your own idea and you have done the work on your own, then it should be just fine to publish it on your own.

Presuming you respect and trust the people you work with, it is possible you would benefit from discussing it with somebody senior.

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