I gave my supervisor a paper draft today. They told me that I need to cut out the 5 pages of appendices that give all the equations (along with references of their original sources) needed for reproducing the results found in the main text.

My supervisor's argument was that papers should not be self-contained but rather that papers should direct readers to the different sources that came up with these equations. My supervisor went on to say that others might think I am trying to steal their future citations by attempting to have people cite my paper for a formula that someone else came up with (even though I provide attribution for the formula).

In my particular case, I am submitting to a journal with no page limits, albeit there are page charges that my supervisor will pay for.

Obviously, I am going to do what my advisor says for this paper. However, is this the general advice that I should carry with me throughout my career?

  • 4
    Every paper has a target audience. How much info you include will be determined by what you assume a reader knows. For 'basic' knowledge or concepts, it is sufficient to refer to them by their technical name. Jun 1, 2017 at 3:40
  • @Prof.SantaClaus For the sake of argument, let's say there are fewer than 10 people in the world who are already aware of the equations I was listing in the appendix (I believe this to be roughly the case) Jun 1, 2017 at 3:50
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    @rhombidodecahedron I would then trust that the editor will send my manuscript to a subset of these 10 people. Also, just in case, I would provide references to anybody outside of these 10 and also provide a concise summary to guide readers on major concepts needed to appreciate the paper's contributions. Another strategy is to have the full version on ArXiv. Jun 1, 2017 at 4:23
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    Depending on the journal, those 5 pages of clarifying material might be candidates for the 'supplementary material' available on-line.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


There is no hard and fast rule on whether to include calculations in papers that have appeared in other papers. It is a judgment call on the part of the author. For my papers, I have sometimes included these equations (either in the main body of the paper or in the appendix) sometimes I have omitted them and directed the reader to the bibliography, and sometimes I have just provided a brief sketch of the argument.

The reason to include them is because sometimes they are convenient for the reader. The main reason to exclude them are because they detract from the focus of the paper. As an extreme example, if your important new ideas in a paper take up 3-4 pages, it is strange to include 50 pages of previously published calculations, say, even if it is in an Appendix. It makes it harder for me as a reader to understand exactly what is the main point of your paper, and I might get the impression that the authors are adding fluff to make their contribution seem more important than it is. You want to keep your novel, important ideas at the forefront of your paper.

And don't discount the page length: even if they are no explicit page limits in a journal, you generally want to convey your idea in as few pages as possible. First of all, is the possibility that potential readers might be discouraged from reading your paper if it seems too long. Secondly, journals do hold longer articles to higher standards. When I was submitting to the top ranked journal in my field (which had no explicit page limits) we were told by a senior professor that our idea was worth publishing there if we could keep it under 30 pages, and probably not worth publishing there if it hit 40. In other words, there was a sense where our idea was not worth wasting 40 pages worth of someone's time, although it was worth wasting 30 pages worth of someone's time.

In summary, papers don't necessarily have to be self-contained, and how much to include previous work is a judgment call on the part of the author. I will add that as a student, it is probably best to defer to the advisor when making these judgment calls, as the advisor will be more familiar with the conventions and culture of your research area.

  • @user2390246 right! i misunderstood in my first reading. I delete the comment.
    – PsySp
    Jun 1, 2017 at 9:07

I think it's simple: if the tools or techniques that you need are easily accessible to the reader with clear references etc., then I think the best you can do for the journal and readers of your work is to give the intuition of that work and a clear reference. Nothing more is needed and indeed sometimes full details of such techniques might produce opposite than intended effects.

Keep your paper simple and to the point and avoid "fillers".

Be also careful that many journals with no page limits actually do have such limits: Siam journal on Discrete Maths is one on my mind in my field at least which, although it has no explicit page limit, it silently imposes higher standards to longer papers.

  • @user2390246 I mean exactly that: that although they do not explicitly say anything about page limits, they silently impose one. For example, in the mentioned journal, if the paper is greater than a given length (20-25 pages) then they apply different and higher standards or review. But something like that is not explicitly written anywhere in the Guidelines.
    – PsySp
    Jun 1, 2017 at 9:00
  • sometimes full details of such techniques might produce opposite than intended effects -- Wait, what? If full details produce unintended effects, isn't omitting the full details lying?
    – JeffE
    Jun 1, 2017 at 11:21
  • @JeffE I do not mean full details of your result but full details of the techniques used to derive these results. A pointer would suffice. If I try to include all the full details of the relevant literature, the reviewers might well say "look, are you trying to artificially inflate the length and complexity of your paper"? That is what I mean by "ünintended" effects.
    – PsySp
    Jun 1, 2017 at 11:54

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