Research is a collaborative effort. This is clear. But I confess I have a soft spot for single-author papers. When I was growing up (as a researcher) I admired the leader of my group for consistently publishing papers on his own in the top conferences in our area (conceptual modeling). I remember thinking “he’s still got it”.
While that was more the result of my naïve perspective of what research is, I do think we should all aim at writing solo papers from time to time. It’s just a different kind of experience and one that allows you to, potentially, be more creative as you don’t need to reach a consensus with anybody else. It will also force you do refresh skills that you may have forgotten as you were focusing on more “senior” tasks. Playing with LaTeX to fit in the conference page limit would be one of those in my case 🙂 but more interesting ones could imply refresh your programming or stats skills.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more difficult with the increasing requirements of extensive validation, tool implementation, … even for conference publications. Some of this is often required even for new ideas papers. As a result, the average number of authors per paper is increasing (not always for the good reasons but this is a different discussion).
Single author paper should be the exception in your career but I encourage you giving it a try. My last one is from 2007 so I need to apply this advice to myself. This start by giving priority, difficult to do as I always tend to give priority to works where others are waiting for my contribution.
But it’s definitely not impossible. Geoffrey Hinton is our latest inspiration. After all he has done and all the efforts he is involved in, he has still been able to write a (potentially revolutionary) paper on his own. Well, I’m clearly not him but we’re still allowed to dream, aren’t we?
Let me know if I’m just being stupidly nostalgic or you also think that this is something worth trying every now and then.
I wrote a few single-author papers recently. They fitted my own research interests and where not the direct outcome of a research collaboration. I agree that it is a different experience. As single author, you are responsible for all parts and the whole. There is no discussion with co-authors and thus no need to compromise. There may be more challenging questions from reviewers, because of potential omissions of related work that are more easily avoided when more authors contribute.
There is one paper that I wrote as “academic letter”, which I created purely because I wanted to express an idea that did not fit a conference or journal. The paper is not cited (yet) and I believe it will not trigger further discussions in the conceptual modeling community.
I encourage colleagues to consider writing a few papers just on their own. These papers may be the ones you cherish most after a while.