I have heard a few times that having single-author papers is good for your career. I suppose this is because it shows you are capable of producing research on your own. But I wonder if it is a double-edged sword. Say you are early in your career and have only solo papers. Does this also look bad because it suggests you are not good at collaborating?

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    It certainly doesn't look bad in math. What is your field? – Kimball Feb 12 '15 at 10:26
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    Math. So that's good to know. – mbsq Feb 12 '15 at 10:26
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    In math, some good researchers almost never collaborate, though collaboration is becoming a lot more common. However, even if you want to collaborate, it can take awhile to find suitable collaborators and a suitable project, so it's perfectly normal to start off writing solo papers and later wind up collaborating a lot. – Kimball Feb 12 '15 at 10:39
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    Useful reading – Lilienthal Feb 12 '15 at 11:58

EDIT: Just to make the perspective clear. Disciplines have varying authorship traditions. In many fields within the sciences, and where I come from, first name in an author list is first author (considered to have contributed most) and collaborative papers are the norm.

Any article where you are first author is "good" for you. Single author articles have become increasingly rare, at least in fields with which I am familiar. The reason is of course that science is rarely done by single persons but rather in groups. Where single author articles are still relatively common are in the form of review articles where a single author can collate and critically assess the state of affairs in for example a subfield.

Going back about 20-30 years, again in the afore mentioned for me familiar fields, single authorship was almost demanded from PhD students and older faculty would basically frown on co-authored articles. Now, single authorship almost carries something odd about it in the sense that one can wonder if the person does not know how to collaborate. The later is of course not a good view to express but it shows how much the views have turned.

So to conclude, writing a well-referenced paper in a high impact journal as first author takes precedence over single or multiple authorship today. I doubt many would look at single authorship as much better than first authorship on a co-authored article today.

  • good points, @Peter Jansson, I would have incorporated them in my answer if you wouldn't have been faster. – damian Feb 12 '15 at 9:03
  • Can you clarify the last sentence? – mbsq Feb 12 '15 at 9:05
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    Note that in math (mbsq’s field), the usual convention is to give authors in alphabetical order, hence there is no useful concept of a “first author”. And single-author papers are quite common. – Emil Jeřábek Feb 12 '15 at 11:11
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    I doubt many would look at single authorship as much better than first authorship on a co-authored article today. — This is certainly not true in theoretical computer science. But then, like math, we don't have "first authors". – JeffE Feb 12 '15 at 12:14
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    @JeffE this is why I added the EDIT to my answer to acknowledge your field and other that have other traditions. – Peter Jansson Feb 12 '15 at 12:20

It highly depends on the discipline. In the humanities, single-authored papers are (still) often kind of the norm, in the "hard" sciences an exception, and social sciences being somewhere in between (if one can make such a broad generalization anyway). But as a general publication strategy, I think it is always good to aim for a bit of diversity: If most of your papers are probably multi-authored anyway, there is no need to fear that that two or three single-authored papers would give you a reputation of being unable to work in a team. So, if you have a good idea, and if you have the time and ressources to do it on your own, go ahead and write that solo paper. It can be fun, and in terms of reputation, I'd say it is a good chance to communicate: Hey, this is really my work and sth that I really care about, next to all the cool co-authored stuff.


Regardless of what it suggests. Having only solo papers is "suspicious", hiring such a person is therefore risky. When collaborating you are probably going to be able to write more and better papers and your statistics are probably going to look better (depending on how additional authors impact on them). Therefore, when competing for a position, usually collaboration pays off.

At the same time, having some solo paper definitively proves your skills, assuming the quality of the papers is good, they are published in some good venues, etc. Some conferences give "best paper awards", having one of those in a solo paper would definitively prove you as a reliable researcher.

Of course all this depends on the area and what is customary, but I think this summarizes the general idea. And from this you can infer the only point I want to make:

This is not a double-edged sword by any means.

The more papers, the better. In principle no paper is going to hurt you, unless it is wrong, shows no ethics, or similar issues. If you have x solo papers and y papers collaborating with other researchers, then having x+z and y+u is only going to be good (for z and u greater than 0).

It's a single edged sword, don't worry about publishing, strive for quality and quantity and worry about not-publishing.

So, to make it crisp clear. If you find yourself writing solo papers and publishing only solo papers, go ahead and do it, do it as much as you can and as well as you can. Then try to write some papers collaborating with more people additionally to that (not instead of that).

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    The more papers, the better. — This is simply false. The better papers, the better. – JeffE Feb 12 '15 at 12:15
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    @JeffE I pointed twice at the quality of the papers, so please don't take my words out of context. Given some quality of the papers, the more papers the better. You are right, that assertion taken out of context is "simply false", so please don't be a simpleton, consider the context of the assertions. – Trylks Feb 12 '15 at 12:32
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    @JeffE I agree that is how things should be, less and better papers would make everything much easier for everybody in academia. However, that is not the way they are. Alan Turing has a low h-index when you compare it with current successful senior researchers. Current metrics focus on the number of citations and the number of papers, and the question is about "what is good for your career". – Trylks Feb 12 '15 at 12:36
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    However, that is not the way they are — In my (admittedly privileged) experience, that's exactly the way they are. Doing what's best for your metrics is not the same as doing what's best for your career, even in practice. – JeffE Feb 12 '15 at 14:30
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    In principle no paper is going to hurt you — This is also wrong. Low-quality low-impact papers can definitely hurt you, even without ethical or correctness issues. – JeffE Feb 12 '15 at 14:33

It is a good practice to have both solo papers and collaborative works. While the latter show your capability of team working, the former demonstrate your self-motivation and ability to publish on your own. Both are top remarks that hiring team would consider important.

  • If all papers are co-authored it would sound suspicious that you are heavily dependent on others; this is a bad mark.
  • If all papers are solo-authored it would sound suspicious that you are incapable of working with colleagues.

Hence it is the best to have both in your CV.

Beside all the above, in current date, hiring especially in academia does not solely depend on your publication, but on many other factors.

To say that, you should not worry too much about your situation from this point of view.

And it is quite easy to find someone to be added to your authorship list of your paper. Just look around, you will notice many are waiting or willing to do so.

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    Big -1 for the final paragraph. – Tobias Kildetoft May 2 '17 at 6:03
  • @TobiasKildetoft you are likely in favor of people working for you! – Developer May 4 '17 at 9:24
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    I have no idea what you mean. Adding authors who did not contribute to the paper is academic misconduct, plain and simple. – Tobias Kildetoft May 4 '17 at 9:52
  • @TobiasKildetoft Of course it is a wrong doing. However the reality is that almost 99% professors in all universities around the world all are in favor of being listed as co-author in papers that they did no contribution at all. If you do not accept, I am afraid you are living in a dream world. Because of this reality (which is popular misconduct) many professors show CV in astronomy scale. I am sure that if you contact any professor in your geographic area and suggest a collaboration (and you are knowing that there is nothing he/she can help or add any value) there is no chance they reject. – Developer May 8 '17 at 20:27

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