Research Advice

Here is a collection of advice from different people about how to do good research and write good papers.

From Simon Peyton Jones

In his talk “How to write a great research paper” they discuss many points which I think about when writing a paper such as:

  • Don’t wait, write.
  • State your contributions
  • Giving credit to others does not diminish the credit you get from your paper
  • Introduce the problem, and your idea, using examples and only then present the general case. Explain it as if you were speaking to someone using a whiteboard

From Ross Girshick

“Show the simplest form of your idea.”

1. Start from a solid baseline, 2. Apply your idea to it, 3. Perform ablations under simple settings.

“What did I learn from your paper?”

A paper should be about a single focused idea or question. “Idea” usually means method; What should I learn? -. Under what conditions does it work? When does it work? If the idea has multiple components, which are the most important? Which implementation details are important?

“Ablations: One Table, One Message”

Example: Mask R-CNN paper. Many tables, one message per table.

“Support all of your claims”

All claims should be supported. By citation or by experiment.

Otherwise qualify the statement. “Intuitively, increasing X is important for Y..” This statement is your intuition (not fact), the reviewer may disagree.

“Increasing X may lead to improved Y…” Expresses uncertainty or that some conditions may apply.


From Joseph Paul Cohen

I have common sayings to guide research projects. If you work with me you will probably hear one of these.

  • Always work on the MVP (Minimum Viable Paper)
  • When writing a paper start with the first approximation, an outline, and refine it iteratively.
  • Test your code by breaking it

From Luc Devroye

View Luc’s ten commandments of authorship

Here are the rules with slight edits:

Rule 1: Never consult a list of rules regarding authorship.

Rule 2: Someone tells you a problem, and you solve it. That someone becomes a coauthor.

Rule 3: You are writing a paper, and consult someone regarding a certain crucial fact. That person becomes a coauthor.

Rule 4: You are writing a paper, and consult someone regarding a certain non-essential fact. Use your judgment.

Rule 5: You don’t like a certain coauthor for whatever reason. Keep him/her on board. Never remove coauthors.

Rule 6: Your name is on a manuscript that is being written but you did not contribute. Remove yourself. You will feel good.

Rule 7: Your name is on a manuscript that is being written and the others are doing or writing something that is unacceptable to you. You fail to convince your coauthors to change their position. Withdraw from the paper.

Rule 8: You help a student out by explaining a certain path to a solution in your office. The student publishes a paper with that solution, but your name is not on it. Be happy, smile.

Rule 9: A group of friends solves a mathematical problem together while kicking around new ideas on the beach. You are all in it together, linked by common bacteria—everyone is a coauthor.

Rule 10: Do not get stressed about it.

From Larry McEnerney on effective writing

Key takeaways:

  • Often we write for ourselves as a thought process and consider that a paper but this is not the finished product.
  • Writing must be valuable otherwise being persuasive, organized, and clear don’t matter.
  • We need to consider the needs of the reader to read the paper and not our needs for writing the paper.
  • Knowledge is a moving target and not an accumulation. Not everything has value just because it is “new” or “original”.
  • Write using words which challenge or have conflict to indicate value to the reader.