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How do I know I have a research paper ready to ship?

The “put up or shut up” sentence that I look for in every research paper.

Priya Narasimhan
Priya Narasimhan
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How do I know I have a research paper ready to ship?

The “put up or shut up” sentence that I look for in every research paper.

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Priya Narasimhan
Priya Narasimhan

You’ve done the research, you’ve done the literature review, you’ve finished the experiments, you’ve uncovered an interesting set of results and, now, it’s time. Time to ship the work off to a conference for publication.

How do you know the work is ready?

How do you know you have a research paper in your hands?
How do you know that it’s good enough to ship?

Conference committees look for loads of things to decide if a paper is worthy to publish— use of proper terminology, description of scientific method, coverage of related work, extent of experiments, clarity of expression, etc.

But, above all, they look for one thing — novelty.

And so, I start there. I start every research paper the same way. I write one sentence — one — that forces me to articulate the novelty in my work. Once I am happy with that sentence, and once I believe in it, I then write the rest of the paper around it.

My pivotal sentence.

Insert drumroll.

To the best of my knowledge, this paper is the first to _________ (I fill in the blanks with my claim).

In the blanks, I try for precise, factual language, and I steer clear of self-indulgent, broad, vague, over-reaching claims. I also provide the context and scope under which my claims are valid.

Here are three examples from my students’ research projects:

  • To the best of my knowledge, this paper is the first to describe an offline approach to analyze logs from multiple machines to determine the root-cause of performance problems in a Hadoop-based distributed application.
  • To the best of my knowledge, this paper is the first to describe a runtime approach for correlating device-level metrics from thousands of devices in a production high-density Wi-Fi network, to diagnose common network problems.
  • To the best of my knowledge, this paper is the first to describe an approach for using edge computing to provide low-latency peer-to-peer video applications across users in a high-density wireless environment.

So, why is this sentence pivotal?

It makes me articulate what’s new.
It makes me confront the novelty in my paper.
It makes me set myself apart from the work out there.
It makes me state — in one crisp sentence — why my paper ought to be accepted at all.

Image by Iván Tamás from Pixabay.

It is my “put up or shut up” sentence for the paper.

Once I write it, I think it over. Is the sentence true? Can I really make this claim? Did I do all the work necessary to make this bold claim? Do I have the evidence to back it up? Does this claim hold up in the face of related work?

I write, rewrite, and keep rewriting the sentence until I believe it.

Then, and only then, do I feel that I have a research paper on my hands. I have something I can defend the novelty of. I have something I can build a story (the story of the paper) around. I have something worth writing. I have something worth reading.

I have something worth shipping.