I am currently reading a paper which devotes a section to reciting key valuation basics in finance, such as the time value of money and DCF analysis.

The paper goes so far as to explain the methodologies and historical significance of the valuation techniques. What is the point of a paper reviewing well known and understood literature? Isn't it entirely redundant?

To be clear, the paper was not an actual literature review.

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    Even research papers are written for specific audiences.
    – Kimball
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 3:02
  • Thanks - I was mostly confused because the paper ends by suggesting future areas of research which could be investigated, which lead me to believe it was more suited to an audience familiar with the theory/in financial academics.
    – elbarto
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 3:05
  • Looking at the journal also helps figure out motivations. If you want to publish in a more general journal, then you'll almost always have to add more supporting material that you can leave out when publishing in a more focused journal.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 4:54
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    To be honest, I often ask the opposite of this question - why didn't the authors of an article I'm reading make it more self-contained? (page limits aside) If you're trying to read an article in a new field, it's quite frustrating to have to find and read ten other papers before you can read the one at hand, particularly when some of those other papers turn out to be either (a) not as well written as the paper of interest, or (b) full of lots of other stuff that's tangential to what you really care about. YMMV. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 12:05

4 Answers 4


Not everyone who reads a paper is going to be in your field and have the same background no matter how basic it might initially seem. In researching literature, I often come across sociology, economics, history, etc, papers. That initial regurgitation in a paper might seem really obvious to sociologists, economists, and historians, but it isn't necessarily so obvious for me (and nicely tends to give references if I feel the need for further background knowledge).

It also helps out people in the field, especially when they're not as current on the specific topic (when was the last time a scholar of modern American theater read Beowulf? Likely graduate school). It helps for understanding the approach used as well as seeing the paper's context, relevance, and importance within the field. Even at a basic level, when someone recaps a plot/situation in a single paragraph for me, it's enough to jog my memory and save me from needing to pull the book back out and read a hundred pages just to follow the paper.


I quite often asked this question myself but realized that much of the works out there simply are not focused for those fluent in the field. Granted, that doesn't mean someone from the field can't read it; it's more of a factor that the work is meant to appeal to people outside of the field too.

For instance, a document explaining how to use a piece of software, while it will obviously be rudimentary to people who use the software, the "John Does" of the world might not even understand the point or some of the spicy terminology. The software could be something like Microsoft Paint (where the use-case is at least somewhat intuitive) all the way to complex software development software such as NetBeans, Eclipse, and IntelliJ IDEA. Think of it this way: If I wrote a paper on how software is made but I use what are basic terms (such as compiler, IDE, etc.) to me, would you be able to understand what is going on in the work?

I would argue that having such details on some of the concepts may help people such as new learners to the field or even spark the interest of those who were not previously interested in the field. Reading works of others when I was much younger has prompted me to take up the field I've taken now.

I rambled a bit, so I'll summarize. It is because those not as fluent in the field will likely read the work or in the event that someone such as that does, the work can at least assist them to understanding basic concepts and terms used within the work.


In addition to the other answers, it is often the case that commonly used terminology is actually rather imprecise, or may have related but distinct definitions.

For example, in astronomical science, there is still no real agreement on what the word "planet" means. If you are writing a paper about planets, you would do well to say which definition you are using. The same applies to a surprising number of other fields, and it is often easy to think the definitions are more settled than they are. Scientists often address these issues simply by not using the problematic word in a technical manner (e.g., if you are writing about Kuiper Belt Objects, it doesn't matter if Pluto and Eris are planets or not), but this is not always possible.

Devoting a small amount of space at the front of a paper to state a few key definitions, then, is often useful for making sure that the paper does not run into trouble with a reviewer or reader who may disagree with your definition. That way, you set a working definition up front, and even if they disagree with your definition, they can understand and agree with the actual technical content of the paper.

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    +1 And probably triply necessary for (potentially) polemic terms. I had a paper once where I had to reference a specific branch of feminist theory known as radical sex feminism and being a guy, I definitely needed to clear up exactly what that meant and also to show I wasn't inventing some pejorative term since it's not exactly among the most commonly known/mentioned branches of feminism Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 16:22
  • I actually wasn't referring to this because it makes sense for the sake of clarity and accuracy. In my instance, the author went to devote three separate paragraphs on elementary and completely unambiguous concepts in Finance. At that point I felt the paper was more a textbook than a paper!
    – elbarto
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 22:42

Apart from the usual cover-up to target wider audience and to illustrate base concepts, the overly obvious content is added as space fillers if the novel aspect of the paper seems to small in volume.

I've seen this on too many papers to count: definition and illustrations of neural networks, ad hoc infrastructure, basic security framework, even general use applications and editors. This generally occurs if the paper proposes only a minor improvement over the existing literature.

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