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I'm writing a paper as a Ph.D. student, and I'm starting to feel a little bit unsure about the general approach and results. My supervisor isn't a great help here, and I thought to maybe send a preprint to a couple of authors with more expertise than me, whom I cited a lot, and ask their opinion and if they would find it of interest.

Is this appropriate? I wonder if it would look like I ask them to work as my reviewer or supervisor for free, or I would even look like one of these crazy persons sending researchers their huge manuscripts with fringe theories. On the other hand, I would get feedback during peer review anyway, so I'm further unsure about it.

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In my field (mathematics) it is somewhat common to send out preprints like this, especially for junior researchers like yourself.

In my experience, the most common way is to send a copy of the paper as an attachment, briefly introduce yourself and the paper, and say something like "I would welcome any comments if you have any. Thank you very much."

In particular I would not recommend asking questions, at least not in an initial email. I would especially avoid questions such as "would you find this of interest", which can be very awkward to answer. As you said, you want to avoid looking like you're asking them to serve as a reviewer or supervisor.

That said, in my opinion, sending a paper and indicating that you'd welcome feedback is a perfectly fine thing to do. I've got some interesting feedback this way as a grad student, and more recently I've responded to similar emails coming from students.

Good luck!

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  • How long would you recommend a person should wait for a response from the person they emailed until contacting the person again? May 23 at 12:11
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    @A-LevelStudent infinitely long. If they answer your original email, great, if they don't, do not insist. May 23 at 14:11
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    @A-LevelStudent If they promise to "take a look at it", you generally shouldn't write again until/unless they respond. If they promise something more specific, then depending on the circumstances it may be okay.
    – academic
    May 23 at 17:06
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    @A-LevelStudent Honestly, even if I knew them personally I might wait a good six months before asking if they have had time to look it over. May 24 at 12:40
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    @A-LevelStudent (unless they are your advisor, coauthor, or a member of your PhD committee) May 24 at 16:58
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You can do this, but a blind email with a large attachment isn't the way to do it. Instead, you could send an introductory email, introducing yourself and briefly describing your work, perhaps with any notable contributions/results. Then ask them if they would be willing to give you feedback on the paper itself.

Don't neglect to tell them the length and any time constraints you might have.

Even better if this intro email is from your advisor. Or, if that is impossible, copying your advisor (with permission) on the mail. It is harder to turn down a request from a colleague/peer than from a student.

But, in addition to getting feedback it is a way to expand your circle of contacts which can be valuable in the future.

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    If you are suggesting to omit the PDF in the first email, that looks like a bad idea to me. If I receive a PDF (or a link to a PDF, preferably on arxiv or some other server where you are unlikely to have access to the logs), I may take a quick look at it, which may motivate me to give feedback. If I receive a request to blindly commit to spend time giving feedback about a paper I can't take a look at first, I am very likely to ignore it. May 23 at 14:46
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    I think the third paragraph is quite important: your advisor may help the OP by sending the first rounds of emails, and their style may be better. An introduction by a better known academic can also help the email not fall through the cracks. The OP can then learn from the first few iterations, and later in the final years do this themselves. May 23 at 14:52
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If the author you send it to is close enough that you cite her/his work, then it might be ok. Make sure that the person is still active in the area. If your field puts papers on arxiv, sending a link after putting it there is ok (but also, I have gotten emails where the intention is to put it on arxiv in the upcoming week).

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It might be field dependent. To me, the most critical aspect isn't the reaction of the contacted expert but rather that of your supervisor.

Sending your ms out without knowledge on the part of your supervisor seems a bit uncommon.

Obviously all this depends on the "supervising style" of your supervisor and eventually on the relationship between groups etc.

This is to say that you should frankly discuss your idea with your supervisor instead of asking here, because we don't know the scenario and its details.

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