In this statement:

When writing your paper, always start by asking yourself this simple question: What am I really trying to accomplish, or is this just another "paper study"?

what does "paper study" mean?

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    It seems like if you don't try to accomplish anything significant in your paper, it would turn out to be a paper which is just published without any proper intent or pragmatic notion like many other papers. – Nagarajan Shanmuganathan Apr 15 '16 at 11:26
  • @NagarajanShanmuganathan, thanks. I think your comment can be posted as an answer. – adipro Apr 15 '16 at 11:28
  • "Paper study" is also used with a pejorative connotation as opposed to a serious experimentation or realization, when some in-depth research is desirable. For example: "They seem pretty determined not to do another paper study and get something flying. " – Graffito Apr 15 '16 at 11:49
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    Yeah, the term has two different meanings. One simply means a study "on paper", where no lab work or field study is done (consider "E=MC squared"), while the other means a vacuous combination of words which does not attempt to actually advance human knowledge. – Hot Licks Apr 15 '16 at 12:27
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    Possible duplicate of Are “Real class” and “Paper class” well-received pair words? – Helmar Sep 13 '16 at 13:29

In technical/scientific circles a "paper study" is one which involves only paper, and which does not involve any actual experimentation/prototyping/testing.

Eg, in the above-quoted "In 1951, the Commission funded Spitzer with $50,000 for a paper study of his idea on confining the plasma within a vacuum chamber shaped like a doughnut", no prototype of the vacuum chamber was built -- only a literature review and mathematical calculations were involved.

The OP's quoted use of the term is pejorative because, for a physical scientist, a "paper study" is seen as far less interesting and useful than one that actually involves doing stuff. However, for some occupations (eg, the study of poetry) there are only paper studies, and I vaguely recall some "paper studies" by a guy named Einstein which were viewed as kinda interesting by a few people.

So the OP's quote is really expressing a degree of prejudice/ignorance on the part of its author.


In this context the phrase "paper study" essentially means something which will be written down, but nothing will be done about. Like the stereotypical ivory towered academic who likes to write about the world but doesn't actually have any impact. Of course, I'm not saying academics are like that, it's just that the stereotype is useful here.

  • To the contrary, I think most academics are like that, because that's all they can do really. – adipro Apr 16 '16 at 3:19

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