Echos bouncing off symbolizing dissemination

8 – Boost the impact of your papers with these three cheeky tips

Send your paper to all researchers you cite; Approach researchers who you think should have cited you; Self-cite even in different fields



Today we’ll look at some outside-the-box advice to expand the dissemination of your papers but also boost your network, your collaboration opportunities, and your CV. All in one go!

If you tend to be on the shy side, I invite you to suspend your disbelief for a while - you might have to overcome certain prejudices, such as the idea that good work always gets (magically) known, or that disseminating your paper is blatant self-promotion that’ll brand you for life.

So stick with me here – hopefully you will enjoy a bit of cheeky but effective advice (if not, you’re on the wrong blog!)


1) Send your paper to researchers you cite – you’ll get more collaborations, job offers & citations

When I was a PhD student, I received an email from a researcher I knew, with 200 other researchers copied in. He wrote/

Hey guys, look, I’ve just published this paper in Nature, it might be of interest to you given your work.


I thought “If you really think my work is relevant to your paper, why didn’t you cite it?” I didn’t take offence at all, he was a sweet guy, obviously buoyed up with his publishing success.

But I decided that whenever I published, I would send my paper to researchers I cited. It carried a lot more benefits than I would have thought:


  • It yields opportunities for collaborations. In my case, writing to researchers I cited for each of my 23 papers resulted in over 10 collaborations (i.e. one for every other paper I published).
Collaborations flourish because researchers you send your paper to think you’re decent and approachable (after all, you cited and wrote). With some researchers, conversations develop naturally. After a few email exchanges, trust becomes reciprocal and you have an idea of their research interests. And a few years later, you might decide to collaborate...
  • It may yield job opportunities, too. One researcher in Oxford replied to my mail with a very terse: “Interesting. We should meet one day”. Two years later, I met him during a visit to Oxford. A year later, I joined his lab, and he become my mentor.


  • It is good for your CV by multiplying your citations. The sooner researchers hear about your paper, the more opportunities they have to cite it – and the sooner it gets cited, the more it will get cited (the rich get richer).

       NB: you can read more on CVs in the CV and careers section of the blog.


    "Isn’t this pushy? I feel uncomfortable sending my papers to other researchers"

    In that case, you will probably be surprised by the positive reaction you get. What might be pushy, for example, would be writing out of the blue to a researcher to suggest they invite you to a congress. But sending a personalized e-mail to a researcher with your new paper that cites their work is for them: 

    1. Gratifying – everyone likes being recognized;
    2. Helpful for keeping abreast of the literature;
    3. Useful in expanding their network.


    Use an e-mailing software for speed

    Using an e-mailing software enables you to simultaneously contact all the researchers you cited in an personalized way


    I used to individually write to researchers cited in my papers, but that took a long time. Now I use an e-mailing software. I find Mailmeteor (for Gmail) very convenient, but there are plenty others. (I hate technology, yet even for me this is easy; if you can't do it, ask your student to show you).

    Using a mailing software is well worth the little time spent learning it, because it considerably boosts the reply rate every time you send an email to a group. Instead of everyone being copied in on the same mail and ignoring it, they will have the impression you write to them in person. Therefore, more people will reply, faster, saving you a lot of time!

    In practice, while the article is under review, I gather the email of the main authors of the most relevant papers cited (in general 20 to 40 emails) and enter it in a spreadsheet in which some fields are personalized, as above. If I can't find an email address, I don't insist too much, as I ask recipients to forward the paper to other researchers who might be interested anyway.

    Then I use a mailing software to prepare a personalized email to each author. In the example above, the fields comprise the first name and the virus they work on. The first researcher will thus read an email that reads "Dear Karyn, since you work on HV2C virus, the enclosed paper might be of interest to you". Etc.


    Ok, on to the second tip, which is about the absence of citations.


    2) Politely contact researchers who you think should have cited you – it creates a relationship with surprising advantages


    I haven't cited your work, so I'll invite you!


    Writing to a researcher to correct a factual oversight is standard practice. For example, imagine that you've published a theory about the symbolism of public spaces, and that a paper published later states that there is no such theory. In that case, you should write to the authors to inform them of your theory. 

    But I discovered that you can also write to researchers from peripheral fields who have not cited your work to inform them of it, and instead of acting annoyed, they will appreciate knowing about it, and will often invite you to give a talk. Here's how I learned that.

    A long time ago, I published an article I was rather happy with, on a niche topic. A few years later, I noticed that a paper on a peripheral subject didn’t cite it (I work on viruses, which tend to be poorly known by most biologists unless they’re of medical interest). I wrote to the author and politely said: “I read your paper with interest. I just wanted to let you know that the same phenomenon occurs in viruses”.

    Notice that I didn’t write “Boo! You didn’t cite me!”, though the implication was clear :-).

    The author replied: “Thanks for reminding me of viruses! I tend to forget about them until I get sick”. Then two years later, to my surprise... I received an invitation from him to a small international workshop he was organizing on the topic.

    I got to visit Germany, meet interesting researchers, and last but not least, add an invited talk to my CV (invited talks are important because they’re signs of recognition by other researchers).


    Then the penny dropped: this researcher only invited me because I had written to him and hinted at the fact he hadn’t cited my paper! He would never have heard of my work otherwise, since he came from a peripheral field.


    Over the years, I wrote four times to researchers in peripheral fields who I thought ‘should’ have cited my paper. All four invited me to give a talk at some point later. I’m not making this up. Four invited talks make a big difference on a CV, at least at an early or intermediate stage of your career...

    I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations here – of course this method will not always yield invitations. My case was rather specific – it was original work on a niche topic. But you have nothing to lose in writing, especially if you’re a junior researcher, as it will expand your network.


      "Isn’t this practice pushy and even a bit obnoxious?”

      I agree with you that there’s a slippery slope between politely contacting someone to inform them about a relevant paper of yours, and going on a paranoid ego trip in which you write to every author under the sun to complain that they should have cited you. So if you know you’re so inclined, don’t get started on this slope ;-).

      More seriously, writing to someone who hasn't cited you in the hope they invite you is cheeky, for sure (you'd been warned). But it is not obnoxious if you do it politely for a paper that you think is genuinely interesting to them, and if you keep things in perspective (by realizing that there are probably some papers that you are not aware that you could have cited, too).

      Also, rest assured that the researchers you contact will not feel pressured   they will only ever invite you if they find your work genuinely interesting! So it’s a win-win for everyone.

      Just remember to use discernment. I only used this method four times in my career, and I don’t do it anymore. That's partly because I didn’t want to get into the habit of starting reading a paper by checking whether it cites me, and also because as I became more senior, invitations mattered less.


        Ok, we've dealt with citations between researchers, but what about citing yourself? That's the subject of the third tip. 


        3) Don’t hesitate to cite your most interesting work, even when you publish in a different field

        As I hope the above made clear, research papers do not simply get disseminated by themselves. The two main obstacles to an efficient dissemination are that: 1) researchers are very busy, and 2) research is full of silos.

        One of the easiest and most efficient ways of overcoming these obstacles is to cite your most interesting work in your own papers, even when you publish in a different, but related field. This way, researchers from somewhat different horizons can learn about it.

        This tip might seem obvious to some of you, but studies have shown that women self-cite much less on average than men (which I know is of interest to you readers because women make up 50% of subscribers to this newsletter). So if you believe a particular paper of yours deserves to be more widely known… cite it!


        "Isn’t self-citing cheating the system (h-index and all that)?”

        No, because it will barely affect your citation number. For example, I have 23 papers, which are cited 2300 times in total. If I cited all my earlier papers in each new paper, this would amount to 253 self-citations [=(23x22)/2], barely 11% of all my citations. In practice, I only have around 50 self-citations – hardly ‘cheating’ considering I have >2000 citations from other researchers.


        "Isn’t self-citing pushy?”

        You're really worried about being pushy, aren't you? No, it’s not pushy, provided you cite those of your papers that you think genuinely deserve to be more widely known. Cite these whenever relevant, and of course, don’t mechanically cite your papers that have little interest.

        If you’re feeling insecure, push this feeling away for a moment. When reading a paper outside your field, don’t you love coming across a paper from the same authors that might be of interest to you?

        You’re doing a favor to the community by making your interesting papers more widely known. Conversely, if you don't cite them, you’re doing a disfavor to researchers who might benefit from reading them …


          More cheeky career tips to come

          Did you know of these tips? I came across them serendipitously, and most researchers in my courses say they don't know them (or if they do, they hesitate to apply them). Yet they can be quite useful for enhancing your CV, while being beneficial to the community – more dissemination of papers across silos, more collaborations, more diversity in people invited to talks, less gender imbalance in self-citation, etc.

          --> If you like these cheeky but effective career tips, tell me at – I’ve got plenty more :-).


          Have a nice day and fruitful research.


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