Determining Authorship

Posted by Huong Le, community karma 241

How do you personally determine whether or not to add someone as a second author to your work? Is them helping you with data analysis enough to warrant second author? If you assisted someone with analysis would you expect to be added as second author? Are there any hard and fast rules about authorship in academia?

over 12 years ago


Naomi Bartz, community karma 211

Figuring out shared authorships, particularly when you are a graduate student in a hierarchical relationship with the other author(s), can be challenging. My advice is to have the conversation early on and in no uncertain terms. While this conversation can be uncomfortable, it minimizes tensions, frustrations, and passive-aggressiveness at the outset.


If you are conducting research with or for a professor ask him/her what you can expect out of this research experience. If second or first authorship is possible (for yourself) ask exactly what is required of you to obtain it (data analysis, literature review, writing, etc).

In the converse, if you would like to use a professor's data set and don't want to tag him/her as a second author - make that clear upfront. I was planning on adding a comparative component to my dissertation using a data set I had been a research assistant on in my first few years in graduate school. One of my advisors told me that it was imperative that I speak with the principle investigators of the data set and insure that I could “acknowledge” them in the articles/book that might come out of it, rather than name them as supporting authors. They agreed to this and it took a lot of worry and ambiguity out of the situation.

Finally, even if you have had this conversation you may need to restate the "terms of your agreement" at certain points throughout the collaborative experience. The professor may make a statement about his/her role that is different from what you originally agreed on (I think in most cases this is just the product of absentmindedness due to an overloaded work schedule) and you will need to reference your original conversation. But, if you haven't talked things through clearly in the beginning you may find yourself giving up things that are very near and dear to any graduate student (single or first authorship)!

over 12 years ago
I don't disagree with you, but it can be very off-putting if someone asks you for some help on a project and the response is "I can help, but let's talk about authorship first". I've never (and would never) ask a mentor what the authorship order would be when presented with an idea or dataset for a new paper. Agreeing to help anyone who can use it, and agreeing to do any project that comes across my desk has resulted in only one situation where I spent a sizeable amount of time helping a colleague and wasn't included (it was already a long author list and my contribution was in the gray area of not quite enough to concretely deserve inclusion), which I was fine with. Of course, everyone has to find the interpersonal they're comfortable with.
Ben Lewis – over 12 years ago
I think the difference lies in working with a "mentor" and working as a research assistant for professors in your field. The former being an ongoing relationship that requires much more out of the professor, the latter being much more like a work relationship. I would hope to have mentors I can trust enough to have more informal relationships with.
Naomi Bartz – over 12 years ago
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Jeff Stuewig, community karma 76

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules.  Things can not only differ depending on field but also by research lab.  Here is an article from psychology that talks about authorship.  In the past we have used it, not as a rule book but as a jumping off point to have discussions with lab members.

McGue, M. (2000). Authorship and intellectual property. In B.D. Sales & S. Folkman (eds.). Ethics in the conduct of research with human participants (pp 74-95). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.


over 12 years ago
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Thomas Anderson, community karma 57
The APA has some guidelines:

I agree with Naomi that the best thing to do is have the conversation early, before doing the work.

My thinking is that someone helping me should get *something* out of it. That could range from a reciprocal favour to money to acknowledgement to authorship, depending on the work they do. If a person just looked over your paper, that's a favour (which you can return by looking over their paper); if they made really useful comments when looking it over, maybe that's an acknowledgement. If you pay someone to help with data analysis, they don't get authorship, they get money. If you don't pay them in money, you should consider what they're getting out of it, but you should have that conversation: "Do you want money for your help, or were you thinking about middle-authorship?" If the person helped you design or collect data or write or work on theory stuff, that's probably authorship.

Again, in all cases, best to discuss early. You might have some projects that are going to turn into more than one paper, too, so you can talk about dividing the data such that different people get first-author on different papers, but everyone gets authorship on all of them because they all help with the project and review/comment on the manuscript draft. If, at some point, you feel like you're doing more work than the first author, you can bring that up and either (1) back off and work less on it or (2) talk about whether first-authorship should be changed. It can be a delicate topic, but one worth discussing.

Ultimately, I think successful projects generally have a "champion" that pushes them forward and that more people know who that champion is by their actions. While it might be apparent, it is still best to discuss early and as-needed so you have the cooler-heads conversation rather than an interpersonal conflict down the line.
over 3 years ago
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Ben Lewis, community karma 63

In my (relatively limited) experience, the "hard and fast" rules boil down to something tremendously subjective, like "contributed significantly". I have been included on publications to which I have contributed far less than other publications in which I was not included as an author. In terms of expecting to be included if you helped someone with the analysis, I think my expectation would largely depend on the amount of work that went into the analysis. If it's an analytically driven paper and you spent weeks of your work-time on it, I would expect you'd be included. If you spent a few hours polishing SAS code, perhaps not. Of course, that leaves a huge middleground (but I hope for your sake you're included!).

over 12 years ago
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