I am not sure if this is the appropriate forum to ask as it is not directly related to a research level (math) problem, but I figured it was worth a try. I recently attended a conference and felt that my area of research was not well represented, and simultaneously got feedback that there does not exist a single reference that summarizes the state of affairs of my topic area. I have thus decided to write an expository paper and submit it to the conference proceedings. However, I am not sure what the expectations are for expository papers.

Can anyone give me their opinions on the "do's" and "don'ts" of expository writing?

Thank you very much for your input.

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    $\begingroup$ In my mind there is a distinction between a survey article (which is what your topic apparently needs) and an "expository paper". The former case tells people what is happening and where to find further details; the second one actually tries to explain something in your area $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 10, 2014 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ I was never told that there was any distinction between the two terms; I've always used them interchangeably. In my case I do believe a 'survey' paper is what is needed. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2014 at 1:37

2 Answers 2


There are several journals publishing mostly or only surveys: BAMS, Russian Math surveys, Expositiones math., Asterisque, Sugaku. There are many excellent surveys in these journals. Take one which you like and follow the pattern. The main thing I expect from a survey is that it should be readable by a non-specialist. By someone who wants to be introduced to the area. Perhaps a graduate student.

There is a different kind of surveys: surveys for specialists. In this type of surveys, the main feature is completeness. Specialists will use it to check what is known and what is not known in your area. And what are the most important questions/conjectures. You have to decide in advance what type of a survey you want to write.

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    $\begingroup$ This is just to add another surveys-only journal to your list: The EMS recently founded EMS Surveys in Mathematical Sciences and the first issue is available for free. $\endgroup$
    – eins6180
    Sep 25, 2014 at 7:27

Since you plan to submit it to be part of the conference proceedings, the editor(s) of those proceedings are likely the best people to ask. I would go to them for critical information such as length, intended audience, level of detail.

Off the cuff, here is what I would expect from a survey paper, disregarding length:

1) Introductory and Motivating Example(s)

2) History of Development, including key players and papers

3) List of major philosophies, subareas, divisions, ways of tackling subject.

4) For each item in 3), a good summary article indicating methods and applications, perhaps mini histories or variations on the motivating example. Tie-ins or anticipations to the other sections should be clearly marked.

5) Relations of the general area to outside area of study, and other connections

6) Hopes and Dreams for future development of the subject

7) Apologia for whatever was left out

8) Extensive bibliography, ideally organized with major key being list, minor key being author-date or date-author.

Of course, length limitations can be accounted for by expanding 7).

These are the do's. Since whatever you writeup can eventually be used in a handbook or wikipedia or other places, the only don't I can think of is don't limit your options: someone can retool your work for other domains if you don't have the time and energy to retool it yourself.

Gerhard "Ask Me About Systemic Writing" Paseman, 2014.07.09


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