I am an author; now how do I convince others of that fact?
December 7, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

How do I best reflect my contribution to a multi-authored academic paper?

I am a co-author on an academic paper in the social sciences that has a total of six authors. One author (I'll call him "Dave") and I have done the vast bulk of the writing and revising of the manuscript. This is agreed upon by all, as is the fact that Dave should be first author. The question is, how can we best reflect my contribution in the order of authors? The two common possibilities are second or last authorship, e.g.:

- Dave, Me, W, X, Y, Z, "Title." [This signifies my second authorship, but doesn't really distinguish me from anyone else].

- Dave, W, X, Y, Z, Me, "Title." [This distinguishes me, but my impression is that last author is often interpreted as a ceremonial role for a PI, and can actually imply that the person didn't contribute anything substantive at all].

I normally don't like to nit-pick about this kind of stuff, and honestly feel a bit silly even asking the question. Consultations with colleagues and Dr. Wiki haven't helped. But this is my first multiply co-authored paper, it will be placed in a very high-profile journal, and I want people to recognize that the ideas and analysis are mine and Dave's. My specific questions:

- Would second or last authorship better reflect the fact that Dave and I are the two primary authors of the article?

- We already specify the extent of my and Dave's roles in the authorship statement, but does anybody actually read these?
posted by googly to Education (19 answers total)
- We already specify the extent of my and Dave's roles in the authorship statement, but does anybody actually read these?
I reckon this is your best bet. As to citations, you're going to be lost in the et al. any which way. I do read these authorship statements when I come across them, but don't know if others do (I even read the acknowledgements).
posted by dhruva at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2009

This is really, really dependent on your field of study. If Dave, you, and all the co-authors recognize that the bulk of the work was done by Dave and you, then I sometimes see people cite papers like this:

* Dave and Me, et. al, "Title."
posted by muddgirl at 8:53 AM on December 7, 2009

I mean "et al."
posted by muddgirl at 8:54 AM on December 7, 2009

I don't know much about the humanitites, but in biology it's not too uncommon to have joint first authors, in which case you see something like:

Dave1, Me1, W, X, Y, Z, "Title"

1These authors contributed equally to this manuscript

Is that a possibility here? If not, I'd want to be second author; In science I generally assume the last author is the PI of the lab or event the institute. It puts across that (s)he's a senior, supervisory figure, but probably didn't do much of the actual work. Of course, I don't know whether you wacky humanities types* would have the same associations.

*I love you really
posted by metaBugs at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the comments so far! The field is health research, the journal is a health policy & ethics one, so somewhere between social science and 'hard' science.
posted by googly at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2009

I have occasionally seen articles (I'm a student in cogntive science, and I think I've seen this mostly in more computational journals) that have something like the following:

Dave*, You*, W, X, Y, Z "Title"

*The first two authors contributed equally to this work.
(footnote @ bottom of first page or after institute addresses)

I don't know whether this notation is intended to imply "joint first-authorship" or first-author plus substantial contributer (and I can't tell which you want), but something like this might be a way to proceed, if the journal allows it.

On preview, what metaBugs said. And I second the assumption that final authors (especially if they're a 'big name' I recognize) are likely to be advisors/supervisors.
posted by heyforfour at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2009

Missed that you're talking about the paper itself, and not the citation, but I don't think you'd ever want to put your name further down the list.
posted by muddgirl at 8:59 AM on December 7, 2009

I think second place is the way to go here. Author order is a matter of convention: you won't communicate effectively if you don't follow the way other people do it. Last place can mean either Head Honcho or Minimal Contribution depending on the field, I don't think anyone else uses last place to signify Also Very Important Contributor.

Also, PHD Comics.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2009

2nd author ... I always assume (even if this is not perfect) that order reflects contribution. I also often assume that, in the absence of alphabetical credits, that the last person is either the PI or an advisor with a minor role, or an RA grunt.
posted by carter at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2009

Dave, you, with contributions by w, x, y, z.
posted by alms at 9:11 AM on December 7, 2009

Unless your name starts with "Prof", you should go second. Many journals go with x, y, z, et al in their reference lists, so you'll still get more credit that way. I read authorship statements, especially when I am suspicious about ghost authorship.
posted by roofus at 9:24 AM on December 7, 2009

posted by grouse at 9:46 AM on December 7, 2009

2nd author, and the note people have suggested has been done in fields in between social and hard sciences. I've seen it a few times in my field (information science) which, like yours, is a little from column A and a little from column B with respect to the social/hard dichotomy in the sciences.

Alternatively, just list yourself as 2nd author and keep the explanation in the authorship statement as you've done. This is a nice way to assert your equal contribution without belaboring the point, if you feel a citation and the authorship statement would be over the top. I know that I read author statements, and besides, I think a lot (not all but a fair amount) of this author order business is really related to your CV, in which case you won't have the footnote or the authorship statement anyhow.
posted by k8lin at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2009


Yes, it's meant to be funny, but it's funny because it's true.

I too have seen the "contributed equally" footnote.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:08 AM on December 7, 2009

Go for second author. When I read multiple author papers, I always look at the order. If it's first author + everyone else in alphabetical order, then I know that first author did a majority of the work and the others contributed more or less equally.

If it is first author, then you, followed by remaining authors (alphabetical or not), then one can tell that you contributed more than the rest of the et. al.
posted by special-k at 11:34 AM on December 7, 2009

If it's agreed that Dave is first author, you sound like you're clearly second author. I agree that last author = PI/advisor.
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on December 7, 2009

You could follow the WGA's approach, and use ampersands. But that may not fly in your field:

By Dave & Googly, and X, Y Z
posted by lexfri at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2009

Go for second, no one notices who is 6th, and when you get cited then yo have a fair chance of Dave, Me et al, so at least your name gets noticed a bit.
posted by biffa at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2009

Thanks for everyone's input. Second author, with amended authorship explanatory note, it is!
posted by googly at 12:35 PM on December 7, 2009

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