In my earlier post on authorship, I had discussed ICMJE guidelines that help researchers in deciding whether a contributor qualifies to be an author or not. In this post, I am going to discuss the order in which author names should be included in a multi-author paper. The order of authors on a scientific paper needs to be determined after careful deliberation. Prior to deciding the author order, it is important to understand the concept of a first and a corresponding author.
Who should be the first author?
The first author is usually the person who has made the most significant intellectual contribution to the work, in terms designing the study, acquiring and analyzing data from experiments, and writing the manuscript. The importance of the first author is reflected in the common practice of referring to a paper by the first author’s name e.g. ‘Jones et al. report that…’ Publishing a paper as the first author is very crucial for the scientific career of a Ph.D. student. Most Ph.D. programs worldwide require a Ph.D. student to have at least one first-authored paper in order to qualify for a degree. So an authorship dispute would be inevitable if two Ph.D. students were to work on the same project for their degree. For post-doctoral researchers and senior professors, publishing first-authored papers is important for receiving funding and getting promoted or re-hired. Thus, the first name in an author list is the most sought-after position in a scientific publication.
After the first author, the subsequent authors are usually listed as per their contribution to the research, starting from the one who contributed the most to the least. However, sometimes multiple authors may have contributed equally, in which case the order of author names does not matter, and you can inform the journal editor of this. In order to avoid any authorship dispute, it is a good practice to discuss authorship and the order of authors at the beginning of the project itself, and keep a record of each of the contributors involved throughout the project.
What is the role of a corresponding author?
At the time of submission of a manuscript, journals require you to choose one of the authors as the corresponding author. The corresponding author is the one who receives all notifications from the journal including manuscript status, reviewers’ comments, and the final decision. Although journals usually perceive the role of a corresponding author as purely administrative, this role is associated with seniority in some cultures. The corresponding author is often the group leader or a senior researcher whose contact address is not likely to change in the near future. In cases where the main contributor of the study is also the group leader, he or she can be both first and corresponding author for the study.