Are there actually "quick papers" out there? It took me time to realize that whoever says one should invest time in a project which probably leads to a quick paper is either dishonest or ignorant.

Personally, I think it is a misleading motivation injunction for people which will yield to anticlimax with no results or fairly poor results.

What is your experience with this "quick paper" approach as a trainee and/or mentor?

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    What do you mean by this? Is this some sort of field-specific term of art? I write papers quickly from time to time...I'm going to write one at the end of the month over the span of about 4 days. – GrotesqueSI Nov 6 '19 at 7:27
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    You can always write quick papers, yes. If you want the papers to be any good or even accepted through peer review, then that is a completely different topic... – Dirk Nov 6 '19 at 8:46
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    Is this a question, or are you venting your frustration over a project gone wrong? – Maarten Buis Nov 6 '19 at 8:49
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    I have had "quick papers" with, what I like to believe, substantial ideas. They may have expressed the condensation of thoughts over the last couple of years, but the computations and write-up of the paper may have taken perhaps just a few days. Of course, the basic code I used had been written as background over long time, but never with a concrete publication in mind. Does this count as a "quick paper"? – Captain Emacs Nov 6 '19 at 18:35
  • In my field, there are various dedicated publication tracks for the type of papers that is quick to write. For the most desirable type of publication, it's impossible to get one in a quick and easy way. – lighthouse keeper Nov 6 '19 at 19:31

I have done "quick papers" before, in the sense that they didn't require as much time or effort to produce as most of my other publications. But there are some important reasons for this. In particular, these papers were almost always the result of my becoming aware of a very specific publishing opportunity which serendipitously overlapped with research that I was already conducting at the time, and which was being arranged by a venue that was much more specialized in scope than the top-tier conferences and journals I usually aim for.

For example, my colleagues and I recently developed a method for automatically assessing rhetorical devices in a particular type of text, and we published a paper on this in one of our field's top conferences. A few months later, we coincidentally read a call for papers for a shared task for the evaluation of methods like ours, albeit on a somewhat different text type. It was no great effort to adapt our method to deal with the new text type, run some experiments on the data provided by the organizers, and then submit our results along with a description of our system. The development and experimental work took only about a week, and it took only a day to write the paper.

Despite the minimal effort we expended, we don't consider ourselves to be "dishonest" or "ignorant". First of all, this wasn't a junk conference: the call for papers came from a workshop associated with an established and respectable conference organized by a national scholarly association. The conference is certainly not the most prestigious in the field, but that is more down to its niche and regional focus. Second, we weren't just resubmitting the same paper to another venue. We (anonymously) cited our previous method and made it clear that the system we were describing was a modification of it. The paper therefore focussed on the nature of these modifications and on a quantitative/qualitative error analysis. We believe that this constitutes an important (albeit not particularly groundbreaking) contribution to the state of the art. Because it was specifically targetted to a rather narrow audience, the paper is probably not going to rack up a very high citation count, but neither is it going to pass entirely unnoticed. In short, we think the impact of the paper will be commensurate with the effort we put into it, neither of which was negligible. We don't regret taking a week of our time to work on it.

Of course, this is not to say that this sort of "quick paper" approach should be the sole focus of one's research career. As I previously mentioned, my colleagues and I aim for (and frequently achieve) publication in our field's top-tier "broad church" venues. But sometimes an opportunity presents itself to spin off a strand of our main research into a relatively quick contribution to a more specialized but still-respectable venue. In these cases we'll certainly consider the cost–benefit tradeoff.


Quick papers exist. I have a number of papers that I wrote in a matter of days. Publication obviously took a bit longer, say one or two months, because of the peer review process. However, these are a rather specific type of paper: These are very narrow in focus, very short, and often more pedagogical than presenting new results. If you are in a field where there is an outlet for this type of articles, then quick papers are definitely viable. Though they should not be your only output. I see them more as a service to the community than a way of advancing my career.

  • But I bet it was only quick as far as the writing was concerned -- but you took just as long as for other papers to think about the issue and come to conclusions that were worth publishing. – Wolfgang Bangerth Nov 6 '19 at 21:24
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    The thinking part mostly happened for other projects. So, these were really that quick. – Maarten Buis Nov 7 '19 at 8:33

There is no categorical answer to this, as it depends greatly on many factors. One of them is the field: the paper output rate in mathematics is for example considered to be slower than in other fields (see here). Even inside the same field it might greatly vary. In my field (electrical engineering) it is not unheard of that three-month student projects lead to a paper.

But most importantly, it depends on the project itself, and how advanced it is. A project might consist of taking an idea that has already proven effective in one setting, and testing it in another (maybe more practical/realistic) setting. Depending on how different the settings are, you might get a more or less valuable and more or less quick paper. In general, the higher the "novelty" of the paper, the longer it should take to have it ready, and the higher the uncertainty. But this is just a general statement and there are exceptions. A research group might also have unpublished intermediate results and need your contribution to finish the job.

I would personally advise against blindly falling for promises of quick papers. Instead, I would form my own opinion based on the topic, and decide based on how it fits my own goals: for a short student project, I might be interested in quick, not so novel papers, while for a longer research project I might find an interesting or novel topic more valuable. Of course you might be wrong in your evaluation, but this is less relevant at the beginning of your career, and you will get experience as you progress.

TL; DR: quick papers are not impossible, but as a researcher you should try to decide based on your own evaluation of the project.


There are many quick and good ideas.

But without someone doing a rigorous and systematic study to investigate them, which paper do you think will vanish in nirvana and which one will become the most cited referring to that idea.

Academia is not much about who had an idea first, but who elaborated on that idea at first and extensively. I doubt quick papers can be much more than noise in the literature on a mid-long term perspective.

Quick, short papers without depth will vanish in increasing publication noise very fast in comparison to former times, the dynamics of citation and group citation have completely changed. In physics more and more groups in age of publish or perish focus on longer interdisciplinary hybrid theory-experiment studies and papers to have a impact or get published in good journal. "Quick papers" cannot become more popular/impacting with exponential growth

  • "Academia is not much about who had an idea first" - citation needed. Case in point: Darwin vs. Wallace - Darwin had by far the more elaborate work, but nonetheless seriously feared loss of priority. Boltzmann vs. Gibbs is another nice one which was only relatively recently rebalanced in fairness to Gibbs. See also "Stigler's law of eponymy"; it's not who discovers first, but who is listened to first who matters. And, of course, let's not go into Leibniz vs. Newton. – Captain Emacs Nov 6 '19 at 19:08
  • @Captain Emacs, good examples,but nearly all dead :-) I'm sure it's something completely different to publish before or after age of internet. Quick, short papers without depth will vanish in increasing publication noise very fast in comparison to former times, the dynamics of citation and group citation have completely changed. In physics more and more groups in age of publish or perish focus on longer interdisciplinary hybrid theory-experiment studies and papers to have a impact or get published in good journal. "Quick papers" cannot become more popular/impacting with exponential growth – user48953094 Nov 6 '19 at 19:18
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    I am not convinced. Hopfield's paper is not long and the idea very compact. Ok, you can say it is pre-internet, but really I think the so-called "good journals" are becoming overrated, just because of the easy publication. What will be more common will be multiple simultaneous discoveries of which only one or two go viral. – Captain Emacs Nov 6 '19 at 20:11

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