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What do the terms "lead author" and "co-author" mean?

Who can qualify to be the lead author of a paper? Who can be a co-author? What do these terms exactly refer to?

In a research paper with multiple authors, one author is designated as the lead author. He/she:

  • Takes the overall responsibility for the manuscript
  • Is usually the corresponding author i.e. someone who takes charge of getting approval from all the other authors and communicating with the journal
  • Is typically the first author of the paper, which means he/she has made the most significant contribution to the research, and has also written and edited a major part of the work

Anyone else who fulfills the authorship criteria can qualify to be a co-author of the paper. According to the ICMJE guidelines, anyone who fulfils all of the following criteria can be an author:

1. Contributes significantly to the conception, design, execution, and/or analysis and interpretation of data

2. Participates in drafting and/or revising part of the manuscript for intellectual content

3. Approves of the version to be published

4. Agrees to be accountable for all aspects of the work 

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