In an ideal world, all authors listed on an academic paper would be seen as an equal contributors to the research and of equal importance. However, this is not the case. For a long time, the academic industry has set the precedent that the first author listed on the paper is the primary author who did the most work and is of the most importance. Unfortunately, this precedent has caused much confusion among readers, researchers, and academics alike as to how much each author is worth to each academic paper.
The first author’s name on an academic paper is a much sought after position. The person in this spot often has the good fortune of his or her name associated with the paper, since citation rules often limit in-text citations to the first author’s last name. This causes the rest of the authors in a citation to receive the unfortunate “et al” label. This tradition has led to the assumption that the rest of the authors listed are in descending order of contribution or importance. In addition to the first author listed, the name of the last author listed is also a coveted position since it has been traditionally reserved for the supervisor of a project. In contrast to this traditional way of listing authors, there are a number of other methods used to list authors on a paper:
- Alphabetical – This is a method where by authors are listed in alphabetical order regardless of contribution effort. This is very convenient for large group projects.
- Contribution statement – This method places an asterisk next to each author’s name, with a statement as to what they directly contributed to the article. This is becoming a more popular method, as many journals now require authors to explain their exact role in the research in addition, it is becoming more popular because it allows for more transparency as to how the research was conducted.
- Negotiated order – This is a method whereby authors negotiate and “fight out” among themselves how the author list will be written. This allows all the authors to agree upon how they should be listed based on their efforts. Of course, the downside of this method is that it leaves less powerful members of a research team vying for political support regardless of the work they conducted.
Since there are no rules or standards regarding listing authors, problems can arise from the lack of transparency. The reader has to wonder how much each author actually worked on the research or how much politics played into the decision to list an author first.
There are several solutions to the problem of first author prestige. As listed above, a contribution statement is one of the solutions to this problem. Another solution is ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID). ORCID is a unique identifier that allows an individual researcher to connect his or her articles and work to his or her name, regardless of what order names appear on the author list of an article. This unique identifier also allows an individual researcher to be distinguished from other researchers who have the same name. This allows authors to clarify what work is theirs and what their accomplishments are.
For more information on ORCID, try these websites:
This post was contributed by Annette Carr, Chief Librarian, Bay Shore and was originally published in ‘Significant Results: The Research Newsletter of the School of Health Sciences’ Volume 1, Issue 1. It is reprinted here with permission.