I am writing a paper which will include concepts from statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, relativity, information theory, and thermodynamics. Potential readers will probably not be familiar with all the different fields. I need to find the right balance between assuming that the reader knows all of the concepts, and explaining all the concepts from the beginning.

Any tips on how to find this balance?

  • This sounds interesting. I'd like to get a copy of your paper when you are finished. – Attila Kinali Sep 15 '17 at 15:15
  • I'll link it here when we are done :) – psitae Sep 17 '17 at 3:28

Write the introduction to the paper last. Start with the content: the data, the proofs, the discussion of pseudocode, whatever it is. Then think about your target audience. Who read the kinds of journals you are hoping to publish in? Who attends the kinds of conferences you are hoping to present in? Then add whatever perambulatory context those people need to understand the paper. Hoping to accommodate everyone who might be interested is hopeless.

Let's say you want to make your paper accessible to general knowledge physicists. You can assume that they all have a good understanding of undergraduate physics. You probably can't assume that they've kept up with all the coursework they did as PhD students, but the kinds of things covered in the first year or so of classes should be pretty common across disciplines. You're reminding people of the content from those courses, not teaching them. But anything that's at an advance graduate level or research level probably isn't something someone is going to know, unless that's their field.

If this is being published in a journal on GR, you can give less but deeper GR context because readers of GR journals know more about that. Spend more time and less depth presenting the thermo or QM topics.

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Proposed solution.

Add an appendix. Appendices are designed to allow authors freedom to go into levels of detail that are not appropriate in the main section of the paper.

The best policy is to assume the reader is familiar with the concept (if they're not, then can always read the detailed description in the appendix, after all), and reintroduce the relevant conclusions necessary for the paper.

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