There are two main opinions about originality and contribution of ISI (journals which are indexed and listed in JCR report by Thomson Routers)* survey/review journal articles compared to original articles in ISI journals. Some scientists consider survey papers lacking originality while others think the opposite especially for survey articles presenting the state-of-the-art and research challenges. So, I am wondering, in general, which type of article has the most impact on an applicant's success when applying for a postdoc or tenure track position; survey or original article?

*It was asked earlier, so it is wise to put its meaning for clarity. -Certainly having both of them is the best, but among these two which one has more impact.

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    In which field? – JeffE Dec 22 '13 at 17:41
  • questions here should be general enough for all readers, but my case is computer science. – Espanta Dec 23 '13 at 15:27
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    In that case: Neither. Conference papers are more important. – JeffE Dec 23 '13 at 23:38
  • @JeffE, are you sure? For instance, publishing original paper in Mobisys is more important than publishing a survey paper in IEEE Communication Surveys & Tutorials or ACM Computing Survey (both conf and journals are somehow equally prestigious)? How? – Espanta Dec 24 '13 at 12:01
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    Yes, I'm sure. You need to have original research results that are visible to your community; journals are too slow, and almost nobody in CS reads them. (I'm the chair of the faculty recruiting committee in a top-5 US CS department.) – JeffE Dec 24 '13 at 15:56

There's no simple answer to this question, because there are a lot of variables left undefined. I think this is what we can call an example of a "false dichotomy." For instance, consider the following examples from physics:

  • A first-author "original" publication in a journal such as Physica A might not be as useful as a first-author review paper in Reviews of Modern Physics.

  • Being third author on a review paper in Reviews of Modern Physics might not be as useful as first author on a paper in Physical Review Letters.

  • The stage in one's career also makes a difference in some fields: a postdoc might not be asked to do a review in some fields, but might in others. (Tenure-track professors are a separate category in this respect.)

So I think there are a lot of issues to be considered in this process. However, if one is a postdoc, this is also a conversation to have with one's research supervisor. In general, such articles would be written with their involvement and participation.

  • Upvote: great point raised in the examples! – olee22 Sep 29 '14 at 8:58

Generally, for the most selective positions, original research is more important. If you apply for a top-tier tenure-track faculty position, the conversation will focus on questions like: What has their contribution been to the field? How impactful has it been? What are their prospects for future contributions?

Survey articles can sometimes have an impact on a field (e.g., if they reframe a problem in a new way or present new connections), but most commonly, they don't offer a major new contribution. As such, it is unlikely that they will be considered a major contribution. For a typical job candidate, when people ask about their contribution, the first answer will typically be original research they were involved in. I'm not saying this is a hard-and-fast rule, and I'm not saying survey articles are pointless (not by a long shot!), but I think it is rare for a candidate to be hired on the basis of a survey article; usually, candidates are hired because of their novel research contributions.


It would be quite unusual to write a survey article in a field where you have not already made significant original contributions yourself. Indeed, I would suggest that if you have not worked in an area already for several years, you probably do not have the perspective and depth of knowledge to write an influential review paper. It's not impossible, of course, especially if you have more experienced co-authors.

In order to get a post-doc or assistant professor position, you will need to have made significant original research contributions to your field. Writing an influential review article is often most beneficial later on (e.g., when you're evaluated for tenure) because such papers tend to be highly cited and administrators who don't know your field will give a lot of weight to citation counts.

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