Suppose that I've written 10 academic papers. Which CV is the best for academic appointments?

  • 5 publications in mid-high ranked journals, 5 in low ranked (but nevertheless peer-reviewed) journals.

  • 5 publications in mid-high ranked journals, 5 working papers that you disclose on your CV and publish on your website/University profile (assume that these could have been published in low-ranked journals but you chose not to).

  • 5 publications in mid-high ranked journals, 5 papers that you've written that you file draw away when you figure out they you're not going to be able to publish them in a top quality journal (assume that these could have been published in low-ranked journals but you chose not to).

The third dot-point may be unethical, I'm not sure.

Feel free to play with the definition of "mid-high ranked" and "low ranked" in your response.

Feel free to do a scenario analysis where you consider PhD -> postdoc/assistant prof, postdoc/assistant prof -> tenure as separate cases requiring different analysis.

FYI this is for economics/finance/statistics, but also feel free to talk about your own areas where you've had the experience.

I started wondering about this when I came across some extremely high quality working papers that aren't published and that have hundreds of citations. This makes me suspect that the 1st option is not optimal.

  • 2
    None of the above. Aim for 10 papers in high-ranked journals (along with recommendation letters from well-known senior researchers that praise the actual quality of the results in specific and credible detail). Why do work for low-ranked journals at all?
    – JeffE
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:18
  • @JeffE If you already wrote the paper and it's incremental research. You were just starting out as a researcher and didn't have much experience so decided not to aim for an unrealistic contribution.
    – Jase
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:26
  • Are there no 100-citation papers in low-impact journals in your field? What's going on? Oct 12, 2013 at 1:46

2 Answers 2


the 'working paper' notion in economics appears unique to that area, so I can't comment on that. The problem with your phrasing though is that it ignores quality issues. Assuming therefore, that the 10 papers are fixed, and the only question is which of the three options to use, then the answer is probably (1).

For people who want to know about the work, either of (1) and (2) are fine, and (3) makes little sense (I also don't understand why that would be viewed as unethical). but even then, there's some low-quality non-zero positive information associated with publication in a journal the reader hasn't heard of.

For people who prefer to look at CVs to infer quality, then (1) is superior to (2) (again (3) doesn't make sense).

One way in which (2) is superior to (1) is if you're hoping that you get the benefit of the doubt for unpublished work that has no "quality signal" like the name of the venue it appears in. This is unlikely to happen unless you're in an area where it's common to have unpublished manuscripts circulating and valued.

  • I appreciate your guidance on this issue. I was thinking of (3) because a large (working/unpublished paper):(publication) ratio may be a bad signal.
    – Jase
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:56
  • why ? most people have working manuscripts that go along with published work. over time, the number of active unpublished manuscripts stays constant (hopefully) while the number of publications increase.
    – Suresh
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:57
  • What about manuscripts that remain manuscripts? On some academic's websites/profiles I see unpublished/working papers/manuscripts from as early as 2001. Would it be optimal to delete these (as it's obvious that that individual has failed to publish that paper)?
    – Jase
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:59
  • It depends. In many cases the manuscript has taken on a life of its own. The founding paper in a sub area of theoretical computer science was a tech report and has stayed that way for 15 years
    – Suresh
    Dec 13, 2012 at 19:26
  • 1
    I think the underlying premise - that unpublished manuscripts are a bad thing - is questionable. No point trying to count angels on pins after that.
    – Suresh
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:56

My take is that yes metrics count but people often overlook the kind of engagement (and, often the citations) that you get from relevance over ranking. Personally I would consider:

  1. The relative rating or impact factor of the journal compared with others relevant to the same field; and
  2. The relevance of your material to what the journal typically publishes and their audience.

The citations you are likely to get will be influenced by both the profile of the journal and the relevance of the material to its readership, and at the end of the day its citations that boost your H Index, not necessarily the prestige of the outlet alone.

Its therefore perfectly feasible (and sensible) to publish material in a 'lower ranked' journal if the research you are looking to publish has greater relevance for that audience.

BUT - if the research in question is genuinely only a 1-shot-at-goal only situation when it comes to publication - then you would usually be inclined to go for the highest rated journal that you can as these outlets can be very selective.

Be aware however that, for better or worse, most academics will now 'salami slice' the output from their research, or different aspects of it, for different outlets. This is not always a bad thing (and may not actually constitute 'salami slicing'). For example, a paper emphasising theoretical or methodological aspects to the research may go to a different outlet to one that is more applied or gives greater emphasis to context, findings or implications in practice.

This final point does however flag that if you are only ever publishing in one journal it does convey a relatively narrow focus in terms of how you convey the relevance of your research and your willingness to engage a broader audience even if that journal is highly ranked.

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