Co-Authorship and Sharing Credit

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Toban Black

Every year, I tell myself that the Spring semester is going to be so much quieter than the Fall.  I tell myself I will set goals.  I will take this time to reflect and prioritize.  I will not get overwhelmed… And then, suddenly, it is April.  Response papers need to be graded, graduation ceremonies to be planned, and my inbox is proliferated with conference announcements for interesting events going on nationwide.  With those announcements come calls/requests for proposals to present, and eagerly, graduate students go into overdrive to assess their research and where it fits in to the conference theme.  As I entered this phase of my semester, I was lucky enough to have some great possibilities to propose to conferences, many of which were products of a research partnership.

As I began preparing the proposals, it occurred to me that I had little idea on how to properly determine the author order.  As I have gone through my professional career, I have seen different expectations for collaboration, ghost writing, and sharing of credit based on rank rather than the contribution to the research.  Some projects have been an egalitarian experience with appropriate credit-share.  Others have been more… let us say… inequitable.  Up until now, I never gave it much thought past the idea that this is what is customary based on age, notability, rank, etc.  What I failed to realize until I got further into the PhD process is that formalized guidelines do exist to help you figure out the complex puzzle of co-authorship.

While not all style manuals or organizations set forth guidelines, APA has been instrumental in setting norms for authorship credit and that process.  A fantastic resource from the APA Science Student Council created gives an overview of the different ways in which authorship is determined and how to list authors.  Fine and Kurdek (1993) reflect on the process of determining authorship by giving hypothetical case studies that dissect the decision-making process.  They find that the guiding factors of authorship should be “scholarly abilities and the professional contributions of the collaborators”.  They argue that early in the process, all parties should start thinking about their role in the publication process and have say in deciding the order of the authors.

Beyond academia, sharing credit and collaboration is a growth area for professional development.  Networking, team building, and the ability to resolve differing opinions is part of the process of growing as both a researcher and a team member.  Also, the “sticky collisions” as our VP of Research says happen when people are engaging across disciplines or even within a discipline with an opposing viewpoint yields the answers to our 21st century problems.  Working with someone else gives you the opportunity to look at your problem or research question with a greater scope of perspectives.

Finally, sharing authorship and/or credit is truly a way to build your own credibility and reputation as a researcher and collaborator.  The logic stands that when you collaborate, people learn to trust you.  When you share credit, your partner researcher feels valued and trusted by you.  Building those relationships and enhancing your network will only yield positives when you communicated honestly and share equitably.  This perspective is backed by an article in The New York Times suggests that sharing credit and doing so equitably is the best way of achieving true recognition for your work.

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One Comment on “Co-Authorship and Sharing Credit”

  1. LoveStats says:

    Ah yes, I’ve experienced the confusion of authorship. My own modesty has at times made it that much more difficult. I have since learned to never assume that putting someone else as first author out of respect or uncertainty will end up with them declining it because they don’t actually deserve it. Take credit where credit is due.


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