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I have worked on a project almost entirely on my own with some input from my main advisor.

Now I've drafted a manuscript, and I have received comments from my secondary advisor, who is also a coauthor, along the lines of: extend the abstract to include things similar to "why AI is important to humanity", move the derivation in the appendix to the main text to make it seem longer, cite his previous papers, etc.

I don't like the idea of adding unnecessary content to the paper, but I also don't want to tell him that directly. My main advisor wants me to revise based on the secondary advisor's comments before reviewing the paper. What should I do?

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    If you add the fluff that the secondary adviser wants, be sure to keep a copy of today's version, in case your primary adviser tells you to remove the fluff. May 8 at 1:42
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    Is the topic of the paper AI-related? May 8 at 12:50
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    @DanielHatton It's related to electric vehicles. May 8 at 13:17
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    @squarepotato What I'm trying to get a handle on is whether the secondary advisor is saying "explain early in this paper why anyone would care enough about the results to keep reading" (which is sensible), or whether they are just proposing the addition of completely irrelevant fluff. May 8 at 13:56
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    @DanielHatton The paper is on a control algorithm intended for people already working on EV control. I started off the paper with "Machine learning is the traditional way of doing this, we are proposing another approach because it offers improvements xyz". The suggestion my coadvisor gave is along the lines of adding "We are shifting to EV and it is important that we do". Hope that makes a little more sense. May 8 at 14:47

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It's hard to answer this in the abstract. What you view as "fluff", others might view as "writing a good introduction" or "writing a more comprehensive literature review." The best advice is to talk to your advisor, who has already said you should revise based on what the secondary advisor says. If the secondary advisor has successfully published a lot of papers, I would say that's an argument in favor of taking their advice seriously. It seems likely to me that your advisors have useful tips for how to get a paper published.

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    I should add that my main supervisor hasn't seen the comments yet, he just wants to review the final version after everyone else has reviewed. I agree I may be biased here, I see lots of my coadvisor's work as incremental & "fluff" because of the way he approaches it, but you and everyone else is right that he probably knows more than me anyways. I will edit and try to get explicit feedback from my main advisor. May 8 at 13:13
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    +1 for the main first few sentences, but I’d disagree with “If the secondary advisor has successfully published a lot of papers, I would say that's an argument in favor of taking their advice seriously.” Too many researchers thrive on hot air, buzzwords, and salami-slicing, publishing a lot of papers with relatively little serious content — the current academic ecosystem incentivises this, and is the worse for it. OP may be underestimating the genuine value of the suggestions, or may be quite right that this is fluff — and the co-author’s prolificness is compatible with both cases.
    – PLL
    May 9 at 15:59
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    I cannot agree more. On my second publishable paper (law), I cut an entire section dealing with a review of other law view journal articles addressing similar topics because I decided it was unnecessary. The one reviewer comment was that I needed that very section. I was able to respond very fast since I could just add it back in from an earlier draft, but the point is that what I (then very inexperienced) thought was unnecessary padding they thought was essential. It got published after that was re-added. May 9 at 22:08
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SHORT ANSWER

Do add the "fluffy stuff", but mark it so that to clearly identify it for your primary advisor. One way to mark it would be to put it in italics, I describe below a more specific way to do so if you are using LaTeX.

LONGER ANSWER

If you use LaTeX, use the commands \markversion{LONG} or \includeversion{LONG} from the LaTeX package versions (which is distinct from version) to create the environment \begin{LONG}\end{LONG}, and put the "fluffy stuff" in such environments (or any other name than "LONG" that you might fancy).

If you need to adjust the length of your report, you can replace the command \markversion{LONG} by \excludeversion{LONG} in the header and see all such blocks disappear without any further effort.

Some personal notes:

  • I found useful to write quite "fluffy" articles, which I shorten at the time of the submission to a conference, using "LONG" and "VLONG" environments, so that to balance how much space and details I dedicate to each topic (especially in the background). This strategy might work for you too!
  • I (and the students I advised) found also useful to use a "TODO" environment for parts that I would like to expand later, in such a way that if I do not find the time or energy to do so, I can just use \excludeversion{TODO} to make all such indication disappear from the draft at the moment of sharing or submitting a draft.

I hope it helps!

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  • The half-baked solution for this is "mark the added fluff in a visible way" when using a WYSIWYG editor like LibreOffice or MS Word that doesn't have a facility for the versioning you use in LaTeX.
    – til_b
    May 10 at 12:03
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Tell your advisor what you told us. Ask him to read the paper without the changes wished by your second advisor and with your concerns in mind. Point out that you are unsure and want explicit feedback regarding what you perceive as fluff. Ensure that if he agrees with the second advisor, you make the changes.

Hopefully your advisor understands that you are not reluctant to make the changes but are unsure, want a second opinion, and are willing to learn.

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extend the abstract to include things similar to "why AI is important to humanity", move the derivation in the appendix to the main text to make it seem longer, cite his previous papers, etc.

These don't seem too bad. You would just be adding one sentence to the abstract, and I am sure you can write something more substantial than literally "AI is important to humanity". Moving the derivation does not add any fluff. Citing his previous papers only adds a handful of papers that might be unnecessary but might be helpful to the reader.

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One potentially diplomatic approach is to make the changes that the co-author suggests, then tag your advisor for review on the places you don't like with something akin to "Not sure I like how I wrote this, thoughts advisor on how to improve?". This can make it seem like the advice itself was good but you doubt your ability to implement it.

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