Q: Is it true that the first author should always be the corresponding author?

Detailed Question -

I am the first author for a paper. However, one of my contributors (the second author) has put his name as the corresponding author and put my name as the first of the two coauthors on the draft manuscript. Is this okay?

1 Answer to this question

Your query touches upon various contributory roles, those of first author, second author, corresponding author, and possibly, non-author contributor. Let’s first take a look at these.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) is an industry body that has established several criteria defining authorship. You may read about who qualifies to be an author as per the ICMJE guidelines here. In the same section, you may read about the roles and responsibilities of a supporting author. In the next section, you may learn about who qualifies to be a non-author contributor (here).

To explain the role in short, the corresponding author is typically the sole person responsible for communicating with the journal. (In a rare case, there may be two corresponding authors, but it’s usually just one person.) The corresponding author obtains inputs from the other authors and shares them with the journal editor. Similarly, they take in comments from the editor and share them with the other authors. For large projects, the corresponding author is usually a senior researcher. For smaller projects, the corresponding author may or may not be the first author. This depends on the roles that have been established by the authors on the paper.

In your case, it seems you all have not had a discussion defining these roles. So, this other author has gone ahead and assigned himself as the corresponding author, perhaps out of proactiveness, oversight, or even force. It would be best to discuss the various roles and responsibilities before further progress on the manuscript. If not, there may be a lot of conflict later.

Another potentially difficult conversation would be whether this person even qualifies to be an author. For this, you may refer to the ICMJE authorship criteria discussed above.

Coming to finally answering your core question, the first author doesn’t always have to be the corresponding author, though on smaller projects, they usually are. In your case, from the information provided, it may seem that you could be the corresponding author as well. However, as already shared, it would be best to have that discussion around roles and responsibilities with all involved in the paper to ensure smooth progress.

All the best for the discussion and submission!

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