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Q&A: 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?

3 Answers

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 

You might also be interested in reading Who qualifies to be an author?


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I would like to ask whether we write first co-author as co-first author?

Thank you very much.

@Jizhong Wan, first co-author and co-first author have completely different meanings. You can use "co-first author" when more than one person is the first author of a paper. However, "first co-author" would mean that this person is not the first author, but has done a significant amount of work, more than the other co-authors.

Kakoli Majumder
Senior Writer&Editor
Editage Insights


This content belongs to the Conducting Research Stage

Conducting research is the first and most exciting step in a researcher's journey. If you are currently in this stage of your publishing journey, subscribe & learn about best practices to sail through this stage and set yourself up for successful publication.