Are your research papers telling original stories?

Life is multidimensional. Research papers should be multidimensional too! We should ask several interesting questions. We should give several nuanced answers. We should expect more from the reviewers and the readers!

Yet, in Computer Science, research papers are expected to tell the following story:

  • We consider problem X;
  • other people solved problem X with solution Y;
  • we propose solution Z;
  • we show that solution Z is better than solution Y.

It makes the job of the reviewer easy: (1) the contribution is clear (2) we can quickly quantify the value of the contribution. The more competitive the conference or journal, the more often we see this Z-is-better-than-Y story.

I submit to you that these research papers are the equivalent to the movies Hollywood  producers like so much:

  • Bad guy creates a problem;
  • good guy comes in, beats the bad guy, fixes the problem;
  • good guy gets the girl.

Similar B movies can be repeatedly produced without any new insight. These movies are easy to follow. They are also quickly forgotten.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

5 thoughts on “Are your research papers telling original stories?”

  1. Not only in computer science, but most engineering fields seem to be saturated with papers of the same kind. I’m a young researcher and having grown up on a steady diet of such stories, I can’t seem to remember any other kinds. Can you give examples of some rememberable papers that you think don’t belong to this category?

  2. Most papers I read in social science are exactly the same but there are few that do not and those remain alive even after a hundred years. Paper’s are yet another literary form…

  3. First of all Nothing can be 100% original.

    But there are something that are innovative, such as P2P networks,Grid network,etc.

  4. I feel the same way about the “standard story” in computer science papers. Similarly like Vinod, I would love to see an example of an original paper. Does anyone have a tip?

  5. I don’t think I agree. While papers written in this format may be boring to read, they also tend to be easy to understand. I’d rather have that than papers that are exciting and splashy but force the reader to figure out the exact contribution.

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