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This question is related to this question. If I write a thesis and encounter a small problem that I can't resolve on my own, maybe because I didn't sleep well this day, and someone, like my mother or anyone else, suggests something like, 'Oh, that's trivial, you could use Theorem XY or fact YZ,' and this helps me overcome the issue—even though I knew these facts but had overlooked them; e.g. like looking at the sky and not noticing a plane flying overhead. And I still prove everything myself in the end completely out of my head, where the main idea is from me. Is it then a big issue to not give that person credit because it might seem awkward in a thesis? Of course this person can guess that I appreciate the hint.

At some point, to put it a bit exaggerated, it's like trying to estimate something, and someone realizes that it can be trivially managed with the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality or something similar. It's not like Perelman using the Ricci flow to solve the Poincaré conjecture.

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    You don't actually express why you have reservations about giving the acknowledgment but reading between the lines, it might be because you might feel that you will be judged by not immediately reaching the same relatively straightforward insight yourself. Don't worry: you don't need to give an exhaustive description of the actual contribution, just acknowledge the person, in generic terms e.g. "Thanks to Jo Bloggs, who gave useful guidance." Giving an affirmation costs nothing, withholding one, however... Apr 21 at 22:56
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    Perhaps helpful: Swap roles with "the contributor". Would you delight to be acknowledged for "helping out" in some small way? Would you feel slighted if you knew you'd helped the other person to move forward after being blocked, but that help went unappreciated? You write, "a small problem that I can't resolve on my own" Don't downplay the help you get. You could have spent many fruitless hours being stumped, no matter the excuse you use to justify yourself with.
    – Fe2O3
    Apr 22 at 2:43
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    @Fe2O3 thats true
    – Perelman
    Apr 22 at 12:19
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    I've seen many acknowledgments that thank someone for "useful discussions" or for "helpful conversations" or ... without any more details. Apr 22 at 18:05
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    @Perelman Your response delights me. Thank you! :-) (This is becoming recursive...) :-) Another (selfish) reason to be benevolent: One whose assistance has been properly appreciated may be more willing to provide help again when the inevitable next blockage occurs. My previous comment should have been merely "Think about The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you'd have done unto you." or, Pink Floyd: "I mean good manners don't cost nothing do they, eh?"
    – Fe2O3
    Apr 22 at 21:20

4 Answers 4

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If you're writing a thesis there'll usually be an acknowledgements section which would be perfect for this kind of thing. Even in journal papers there are often acknowledgements where the authors thank so-and-so for helpful discussions.

As for whether you should do it, why wouldn't you? There's no downside.

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    I've seen papers and theses that also acknowledge specific contributions, eg "thanks to Alice Boberson for key contributions to the proof of theorem 6.2.3"
    – Sam Lisi
    Apr 23 at 18:49
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Apart from it being the right thing to do, I have never ever encountered any downside in giving proper credit.

It's good to have a healthy ego in the business of science which is so fraught with frustration - but sometimes, the ego stands in the way of what is right.

"Give credit and ye shall be given credit." - while not always literally true, on the long run it is good for you, your community and science as a whole. The right behaviour operates via long feedback cycles.

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  • There are papers which I indirectly helped by providing program code or answered basic conceptual questions. Nevertheless, I would not want to be associated with this paper in any form. If I was informed, that my was put in this paper's acknowledgement section, I ask to remove it.
    – usr1234567
    Apr 23 at 6:21
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    @usr1234567 You have a point. It is a good habit to ask the credited if they are happy to be acknowledged. I think journals such as Science or Nature actually require the Acknowledgements to confirm that everyone is on board with being acknowledged. Apr 23 at 10:27
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It depends on who gave you the minor guidance.

  1. Was it some fellow PhD student? A friend from the neighboring lab? A collaborator you visited a couple of weeks ago? ⇒ Acknowledge them.
  2. Was it your supervisor or someone involved with overseeing your research? ⇒ Everybody expects master thesis advisors, PhD advisors, senior lab staff to guide you in this way. By their advisor role it is clear that they helped you.
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  • I've never seen a thesis that didn't acknowledge the advisor first. Apr 24 at 15:07
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Just thank the person in the acknowledgements section. Doesn't even have to be specific. Omitting this to me is rather rude and can burn bridges.

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