Apr 21, 2015
How do you decide which research papers to read?

EFF/KRF: Our strategies for choosing papers are similar. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. If we agree to referee a paper or discuss it at a conference, we are certain to read it, and we read most of the papers our colleagues write. We also familiarize ourselves with every paper we find that is directly related to our current research, studying the good ones and skimming the rest.

The harder challenge is selecting among the hundreds of papers that arrive in journals or on SSRN each year. One important criterion is expected quality. The top refereed journals, such as the Journal of Financial EconomicsJournal of Finance, and Review of Financial Studies, are the gold standard. Although even the best editors accept some bad papers and there is always room to disagree about the interpretation of empirical evidence, the results in these journals are generally reliable. Less competitive journals have lower standards, less reliable referees, and more variation in the quality of the papers. As a result, we are less likely to read papers in these journals and are more skeptical when we do.

Peer review is not a panacea, but it is a valuable filter. No filter limits the flow of papers on SSRN: Authors can post anything they believe is part of the worldwide scholarly discourse in their field. Thus, we are forced to rely on other signals of quality, including the quality of an author’s other work, reputation, and affiliation, as well as recommendations from other scholars.

If a paper bubbles up in this process, we read the abstract. If that is interesting, we skim the introduction. If the introduction is interesting, we dig deeper, stopping when the marginal cost exceeds the marginal benefit.

Eugene F. Fama
The Robert R. McCormick Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Kenneth R. French
The Roth Family Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College
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Eugene Fama and Ken French are members of the Board of Directors for and provide consulting services to Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.