Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Marketing a paper: flattery

The book "Influence" by Robert Cialdini, that I read recently, has a short section on flattery, explaining that it is an effective way to get people to buy your product. This has been known forever, of course, but apparently it is effective even when the flattery is blatant.

How to apply that to marketing a paper: we know that the paper will most likely be reviewed by people who have done previous work in the same area. Thus, instead of presenting the results by contrasting them to previous results, with the implied message "Previous work was faulty, my work is much better", the writer should find a style that gives generous credit to previous work. For example, give ample credit to whoever "introduced the problem", "raised the question", "took the first steps", and, for intermediate results, "enhanced our understanding" or "made significant progress". Perhaps that it why we are told to cite the authors by name instead of merely referring to the article by number.


  1. I don't think this is just about flattery. It is also simply more polite to appreciatively cite prior work, and is more humble. Nobody likes to read "my work is much better," whether or not the alternative is flattery.

  2. And as for using names rather than mere numbers for references (e.g. "[1] proved that (...)"), I think the reason to avoid is more that it requires the reader to refer online to the end of the paper to know which result the author are talking about. It is much easier for the reader if the author use proper names, completed with the reference (e.g. "Knuth [1] was the first one to prove that (...)" or "Knuth was the first one to prove [1] that (...)").


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