Who does what when writing a multi-author paper is described, including the role of the first and last author, and the responsibilities of co-authors?
This article assumes that the system of the first author (most hands-on work) and last author (coordinator/boss) is used, although the role of the last paper or essay writer could be taken on by the corresponding author. This article discusses the stages of manuscript preparation up to submission to a journal.
Difficult Situations About Authorship
Sometimes difficult situations can arise, that need to be sorted out before sitting down and planning a paper. For example, a research student may have done most of the hands-on work a couple of years ago, graduated, and then handed their dissertation and notebooks to their boss and left. The boss then writes the paper, with no real active input from the former student, who may, however, still expect their name to be first.
Hence there should be some flexibility in authorship of papers, which should not necessary be set in stone according to who might have performed some experiments a few years ago, which should have the possibility of changing a little according to who does what during the writing. Ideally the person that does the majority of hands-on work should do most of the writing. Always review authorship of papers if events have moved on since the work was done, especially if key authors have moved jobs and are less committed to the writing.
Setting up a Central Authoring Team for Papers
Ideally the main writing should involve the first and last (or corresponding) author. This central authoring team should be established at an early stage of planning. Very occasionally a third person might be involved, e.g. a postdoc that works for a well-established professor, but it is important to keep this central team quite small, so that people are able to regularly meet together or respond to emails addressed to each other quite rapidly. If an email is sent to, for example, a group of 10 authors, without being directed to any specific one, it is often unpredictable who will reply and when, so the sender could be sitting around for many days not really clear who is addressing the issues.
Usually the central authoring team would then get together and agree the skeleton of the paper or to asks someone to write my paper and establish which of the coauthors are asked to provide technical details for some of the sections of the paper. These details primarily concern the middle sections, e.g. the experimental sections, the data analysis, and some of the results, as appropriate, and most authors contribute primarily by providing paragraphs.
One of the central authoring team should then agree to correspond with the coauthors to request this information, and may well have to return several times to coauthors if the information they provide are incomplete or ambiguous. If done by email, there should be an established procedure for who is cc’ed (copied) into the emails. Decide whether there should be just be a one on one between the sender and recipient of the emails, or whether these should all be copied to the central team, or copied the full authoring group but with a clear recipient. The coauthors should also be asked to provide diagrams and tables as requested.
Ideally, the first author should then assemble this information, including doing most of the technical work of organizing the bibliography, pagination, figure and table numbering and checking the journal instructions for authors, to provide the central sections of the paper, namely the experimental and data analysis methods (where relevant) and the results.
Waiting Until Last for the Title, Keywords, Introduction, Abstract and Conclusions
The title, abstract, keywords, introduction and conclusions should be written towards the end. Do not start writing a paper with the introduction: one does not know what to introduce until one has written the main body of the paper.
The abstract should be very focused on the results in the paper. The title of a paper is quite crucial as this will be picked up by abstracting databases, and may influence whether people read the paper, and so eventually cite it: it might be some of the coauthors would have views about the title.
However, it is important not to fall into the trap of “too many cooks spoil the broth”. If the writing is not carefully coordinated and there are many authors often from different groups or institutes, getting a paper written by committee is rarely efficient, and can take up a surprising amount of time. So the decisions should be primarily in the hands of the central authoring team who can write my essay and most of the introduction and conclusions should be in the hands of this team too.
Final Stages Prior to Journal Submission
Once the paper is close to being assembled, it is then a good idea to circulate to the full team before submission, but allow only a week or two for discussion. If there are specific queries aimed at specific coauthors, ensure it is clear whom the queries are addressed to. If using email, ensure that the coauthors are actually reading their emails and are not on holiday, and try to get a “sign off” acknowledgement from each one. If any coauthor does not respond, remind them by face to face meetings, or phone, if need be. Then the central authoring team finalizes the paper, and submits it together normally with a letter to the editor and sometimes suggestions of names of referees. Make sure all authors get a copy of the final submitted paper.
If a coauthor, whose input is minor, passionately disagrees with the conclusions, see first if their disagreement is really serious, if so then the paper may have to be rewritten, but if it is simply one of irreconcilable viewpoint, then if the author does not wish to put their name as coauthor, after a few days’ cooling off, just acknowledge them instead.