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I'm a graduate student in (pure) mathematics, and I just finished up a project and am planning on publishing it. It's a short paper, only about 10 pages, answering a few questions from the literature. I'm writing to ask about conventions on acknowledgements; during this project I have gotten a lot of encouragement from a number of people in the field, and a few people have also read my draft of the paper and sent me kind feedback. I'm extremely grateful to all of them, and would like to include them all in the acknowledgements! The issue is that I'm worried it might come off as self-aggrandizing; given that it's only a 10 page paper, I am worried that it seems I have too high an opinion of myself or of the work by thanking so many. (It seems like such a multitude of thanks is more appropriate in long, groundbreaking papers, not short papers like this one.) Is this something I should be worried about?

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    "I am worried that it seems I have too high an opinion of myself or of the work by thanking so many." This would be a very strange inference to make and it will surely not cross anyone's mind. I myself don't follow the logic of how thanking people is supposed to come across as self-aggrandizing at all. Apr 4, 2023 at 13:54
  • Well, unless your list of people to acknowledge takes over half a page, you will be fine. Apr 4, 2023 at 13:58
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    thanks both; that is very reassuring. @MoisheKohan there are 5 people I want to thank, and three of them were people who posed the questions which I address in the paper. the fourth is my advisor, and the fifth is someone who read my draft and sent some stylistic feedback. does that sound reasonable? overall it's only four lines, so maybe I'm overthinking things! Apr 4, 2023 at 14:02
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    when you said too many people I was imagining at least 10-20 or something. 5 wouldn't be a big deal Apr 4, 2023 at 14:06
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    Five names is shorter than 1 government-funding mandatory acknowledgement, e.g. "This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ABC-1234567. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation."
    – user71659
    Apr 5, 2023 at 5:22

2 Answers 2

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The main issue is not how many people you acknowledge. The issue is mainly that you should give appropriate acknowledgements that are consistent with the scientific publishing norms.

For example, acknowledging your 3rd year teacher who first introduced you to the fascinating subject of PDEs would be quite far outside the norm even if you're writing about PDEs. Or someone who fixed the departmental WiFi when you were really in a pinch to download a paper would not be acknowledged.

On the other hand, it would be very typical to acknowledge everyone who has read the paper and given feedback. Simple encouragement along the lines "that's an interesting idea - you should totally work on it!" would not be acknowledged. If in doubt, spell out exactly what you're acknowledging people for and then have your advisor check that all the acknowledgements fall in the typical norms.

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    In one of my first paper, I acknowledged several people whom I'd talked to about the research. The referee's report contained the line "Given the barrage of experts thanked by the author, the result is likely to be essentially true." I felt a little embarrassed in some vague way. … If that's the worst that can happen, there's nothing to worry about :) Apr 5, 2023 at 4:16
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    @GregMartin - Almost sounds like "the worst" here is a slight positive, even if a bit embarassing Apr 5, 2023 at 10:37
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I suggest that you do it as you like. If the editor or reviewers complain about it (probably not too likely) then make them happy.

There is nothing self aggrandizing about seeking and using help from people. Humble, actually, when you think about it.

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  • "Humble" was exactly what I was thinking, as long as the acknowledgements go out to people who actually contributed to the success, either directly by being a discussion partner, sounding board, idea giver or proofreader or indirectly by being directly supportive.
    – arne
    Apr 5, 2023 at 7:32

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