In computer science, and probably other disciplines as well, it is common to end every paper with a "future research" section. I always wondered what is the utility of this section. In particular:

A. How common is it, that a question from a "future research" section is actually researched by the same research group?

B. How common is it, that a question from a "future research" section inspires future research by other research groups?

Both these questions can be studied quantitatively, even semi-automatically, by comparing the contents of "future research" sections to the titles and abstracts of papers published in a later date. Has such a research been done?

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    I can only add anecdotical evidence, but at least in software engineering this section seems to be mostly fluff. – xLeitix Dec 22 '13 at 8:28
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    I am offering a counterexample of what @xLeitix wrote. I am a PhD student in software engineering. The "future research" paragraphs of my papers is often researched by myself and my research group-regardless of them being part of my PhD or not. Additionally, some of our research initiatives have started by reading the "future research" part of innovative papers. I totally enjoy reading that section in other papers. – user7112 Dec 22 '13 at 8:34

The existing answers are good. Let me just add one more phenomenom I've seen in my area: it is not uncommon for the "future research" section to contain ideas that the authors don't plan to follow up on, but they think might be interesting. Maybe they hope to inspire other researchers. Maybe they're just curious, but don't have time to continue to pursue those questions.

Occasionally, the future work section is used by authors to respond to criticism that "you should have done experiment X" from reviewers. Adding a sentence to the future work section is an easy way to respond to the reviewer and be able to claim you've acted on their comment in some way: it lets the authors respond to the reviewer comment with something like: "our future work section makes clear that we didn't do experiment X and we consider it out of scope for this paper, but we agree it would be interesting, and we've added it to the future work section". You can form your own opinion about whether you think this is a good phenomenom or not; I'm just reporting on what I've seen. Sometimes I've even seen authors include this kind of statement in the future work section of a submitted paper, as a preemptive innoculation against comments the authors anticipate getting from reviewers. I don't know whether it is really effective, but you can keep this in mind when you read future work sections. Occasionally this additional perspective may help you understand better why sometimes stuff gets written in the future work section.


I cannot provide a quantitative answer, but from my personal experience I can say that these are often questions that the the same group will study.

Consider that due to the publication process, at the time the paper is published the research is often much more advanced than the results published in the paper. For this reason, the researchers may wish to add "future research questions" regarding what they are currently working on (and may even have some preliminary results on). In this way they "set up" the conceptual continuity and importance of their current work.

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