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Let's say I invented a system to solve a problem. To run this system, I made my own algorithm.I also created some other things for that system. The main contribution was supposed to be the system.So is it a good idea to have as many research papers out of the project as I can? Or to publish a single research paper?

I have seen a lot of researchers where they were targeting a single problem and they proposed a single solution. Now, what they would do is write a research paper for every component separately. Then they would write a single research paper showing how all the components would fit together.

So is it a good idea to try and increase the number of publications you can have out of a single research project?

My own personal opinion is that the quality of your research matters not the quantity. But I have also seen a number of institutions requiring a specific number of publications to even apply for their jobs.

26

The way I see it, there are a number of factors at play:

  1. Your goals: Do you want your paper to be published in a high-impact journal? If so they will most likely be interested in the whole story rather than a small piece of it.

  2. Readability/General appeal: Can you make a coherent story with individual components? Will they all be interesting for wider audience on their own? In other words, if you opt for multiple papers out of one project; can you make sure these will be able to stand on their own? I personally think going for multiple papers is only valid when combining them into a single big paper would push aside some of your interesting results (or methods) to a metaphorical corner

  3. Limitations imposed by the target journal: Can you actually put together all that in a single manuscript? In biomedical research you always get a limit on the number of words in the manuscript, and there is only so much you can put in supplementary.

With regards to quality-vs-quantity, I heard that early on in your career quantity is more important while as you become more and more senior, quality becomes the main concern. I am often told that as a PhD student I can, and should try to get involved in as many papers as I can. Around the time I do post-doc, however, it's time I pay a lot of attention to where I put my name and try to work on a good paper, preferably in a high-impact journal.

15

I think we all want fewer but high quality publications but many aspects of academia seems to favour quantity. We should also not forget that apart from numbers of publications, the impact of them through different index measures such as the "h" and number of citations play a vital role in evaluating your output. A paper with no citations is not "good" for your record. I think one has to consider when our publications count and I can think of two and a possible third case (in the following I am concentrating on numbers/quality not impact/h but one could (should?) argue that quality = high impact/h):

  1. Publications count when you seek employment. The publications will be scrutinized by peers and in this case the quality definitely counts since the publication will be the key evaluation parameter of your scientific capacity, possibly in parallel to your ability to attract funding.
  2. Publications count when you apply for funding. In this case it is not likely that your publications will be read and evaluated; your proposal will. And, your publication list will be looked at as a sign of productivity. So in this case I would argue that numbers count (not even first/leading authorship may be critical although must be present).
  3. Publications may be important when it comes to promotions and particularly salary discussions. Here it is less clear if quality or quantity counts but I would argue that quantity is more important since your productivity can be shown as a statistic ( by the dept. and univ.) whereas quality is more difficult to quantify directly.

Since you are likely to seek funding more often than switch jobs, one might suspect that quantity is a must. In my funding system, a certain productivity is expected and in this case it is merely a number/year (on average; if you fall short it will be taken as a negative). At the same time you may lose opportunities when applying for jobs if quality does not enter the picture.

So there is need for a balance between quantity and quality. Very few can survive in the long term by writing few but high profile quality papers and it is also not likely you will survive only on quantity if that is at the expense of quality. We of course need to remember that all papers that count are peer reviewed and as such have formally passed quality control.

My personal reflection is that most of us do as much as we can to produce good quality science. If one were to try to constantly push low-quality manuscripts to gain quantity, ones reputation would probably soon suffer, so there may be additional equalizers at play.

So to answer the question: yes quantity counts but cannot be gained at the expense of quality. To "squeeze" as much as possible out of your research is good in the sense that your experience gets out to the public but negative if your research becomes fragmented across several publications that are lost in the background noise. Finding a good balance and seeing how many quality publications can be produced from a project idea is important.

11

The UK is rapidly moving to a low quantity high quality model. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is an exercise that is conducted every 4 years and is used to rate the research quality of "departments" (they are not truly departments, but the details are irrelevant). For the REF each researcher is expected to return 4 items (i.e., 1 per year on average) and these items are rated on a 4 star scale, with 4* being the best and encompassing about 10-20% of the submitted work. Given how REF computes value, an person who publishes a single 4* paper and nothing else over a 4 year window is more valuable than an individual who publishes 100 3* publications. For the REF quantity above 4 is completely valueless and quality trumps all.

Research councils in the UK are following suit saying that they are uninterested in funding 2* research.

  • 3
    Are there any similar trends in other countries? In Europe, say? Also, do you have a link or further information about how quality is evaluated? – Faheem Mitha Apr 25 '13 at 9:33
  • 3
    @FaheemMitha Australia has ERA. I am not sure what other countries are doing, but I think other countries are adopting similar frameworks. As for the evaluation of quality it is purely up to the review panels and kept secret. We have been told that quality is evaluated on an individual basis such that not all papers from journal X will get the same ranking. – StrongBad Apr 25 '13 at 9:41
  • Hi, Daniel. Thanks for the information/clarifications. – Faheem Mitha Apr 25 '13 at 10:10
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    Sadly, Italy is going in the opposite direction. Grossly simplifying, the first criterion to apply for promotion is achieving a certain number of publications (anything indexed in Scopus counts 1) and of citations over time (anything, including self-cites, counts 1). – Federico Poloni Apr 25 '13 at 12:30
  • Australia has a simultaneous Quantity system (HERDC) plus a Quality system (ERA); these are both conducted at the Institutional level. Individual researchers still need to match the appointment and promotion criteria that differ based on disciplinary expectation. So there's still a quantity push in Australia. – Samuel Russell Apr 26 '13 at 0:02
3

It depends on many factors. People may love to have a single "great" article, but there can be obstacles:

  1. Many institutions or countries have objective measures such as the number of publications, being published in a journal which is indexed in Web of Science, and has a high rank among the competitors, etc. These limit the authors.

  2. Journal limitations. I personally love to have perfect articles. But those will be very long, Journals would not love them very much because the reader gets bored. So a way is to split it. As a matter of fact in some instances, it was the reviewer or editor who asked me to remove many parts of my article. I could not stand seeing they are going to be flushed away forever, so I published them as another article.

  3. And finally, note that it is difficult and sometimes impossible to "subjectively" judge the quality of a paper and say "well this paper is high-quality and is worth three average papers"... I have seen strange judgments from senior researchers. For example, I have seen the results of a nation-level contest, where a very poor paper was selected as #1 by 5 judges and another paper which was absolutely unique in its field and very high-quality, was chosen as #2, because the judges were not familiar with the content of the latter (or whatever other reasons they might have) [they later changed their minds when the researcher explained the research to those idiots! but the grant was already given to the poor research!]... So in such situations, objective scores are the only tool for qualification, and the notion "quality" is not even applicable! This is why some researchers would prefer split

  • two comments regarding the first and the second point respectively: 1) I could, and probably would, argue whether or not # of publications is an objective measure of the quality of research. But yes, it is used often. 2) Perfect articles != long articles, IMHO. What makes them "perfect" could be the fact that they express the same idea with much less but well chosen words. Or that it the paper is based on a well-formed question and well-executed series of experiments. So I do not think that length goes hand in hand with quality – posdef Apr 25 '13 at 18:25
  • I think they are "positively correlated" but the correlation is not 100%. At many instances, a perfect article needs a perfect discussion as well. With too many variables to be discussed, no matter the discussion is polished in an excellent way to be as concise as possible, it would become long. We are talking about the report, not necessarily the research. But again I agree that the correlation coefficient between paper length and its quality is not 100%, meaning that there are papers which are perfect but still short (such as the 1-page paper on the discovery of DNA, published in Nature). – Vic Apr 25 '13 at 18:49
  • But I can't agree that perfect article != long article. I have the chance to have both of them, bit sometimes you have no other choice rather than ignoring many worthy items or split your report. – Vic Apr 25 '13 at 18:52

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