What's the Right Order of Authors in Research Papers?

Learn the conventions and factors that determine the order of authors in research papers, including roles, responsibilities, and resolving disputes.

An Evans

What's the Right Order of Authors in Research Papers?

What's the Right Order of Authors in Research Papers?

In academic publishing, the order of authors on a research paper is very important. It’s not just a formality, it shows how much each researcher contributed equally to the study, what they were responsible for, and how much credit they should get.

Where an author’s name appears can have a big impact on their career, ability to get funding, and professional standing.

That’s why it’s essential for researchers, especially those working on projects with others, to understand the rules and factors that decide the order of first authorship there, including the significance of each author’s contribution.

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Factors that determine author order

  • Level of contribution: The most significant contributor to the research usually takes the first author position.
  • Role of the corresponding author: The corresponding author, who may or may not be the first author, handles communication with the journal and readers.
  • Order of co-authors: Co-authors are typically listed in order of their relative contributions, which various criteria can determine.
  • Amount of work: The amount of work put into the study by each author can influence their position in the author list.
  • Importance of role: The significance of each author’s role in the research can impact their placement in the author order.
  • Seniority: In some cases, the seniority of the authors may be considered when determining the order.
  • Principal investigator: The principal investigator, often a senior author, provides intellectual input, designs the study and protocols, supervises several projects, and acts as the corresponding author responsible for communication with the journal during the manuscript submission, peer review, and publication process.
  • Alphabetical listing: Some research teams may choose to list authors alphabetically.

Understanding these factors is essential for ensuring fair attribution and publication process and avoiding potential conflicts arising from authorship decisions. It is also important to understand each author's contribution in determining the order, as this helps in distinguishing between authorship roles and adhering to guidelines for fair authorship practices.

Why is the order of authors significant?

Scientific publication author order matters first authors most in research papers for several reasons such papers:

Credit attribution:

The order of authors reflects the level of contribution and responsibility each researcher has each individual’s contribution has made to the study.

The first author is typically recognized as the primary contributor, while subsequent authors are acknowledged for their smaller roles. In some cases, projects require different expertise, making it difficult to determine a larger contribution, leading to the concept of 'co-first authors'.

This practice is common in various fields and ensures that authors' contributions from multiple significant contributors receive appropriate recognition.

Career advancement:

Being the first author of papers listed as the first or corresponding author can significantly impact a researcher’s career prospects, especially when they are the senior author. It demonstrates their ability to lead a study and make substantial contributions to their field, which can be crucial for securing funding, promotions, and tenure.

Professional reputation:

The placement of an author's name on a research paper can influence how their work is perceived by colleagues and the scientific community. Being consistently listed author of scientific papers, or as a first or corresponding author can help establish a researcher's reputation as an expert in their field.

Funding opportunities:

Authorship order can affect a researcher's ability to secure grants and funding for future projects. Funding agencies often consider an appl

I can't last the author's publication record and authorship positions when making decisions about allocating resources.

Collaboration and networking:

The order of authors can also reflect the nature of collaborations and professional relationships within the research team. Being listed as a co-author can help senior authors foster connections with middle authors and open up opportunities for future collaborations.

Given these implications, researchers need to understand and navigate the conventions surrounding authors to ensure fair attribution, maintain professional relationships, and advance their careers in academia. In collaborative research projects, the corresponding author plays a crucial role in coordinating contributions from different researchers and ensuring the integrity of the multi-author paper.

Types of Authors

First Author and Co-First Authors

The first author, also known as the lead author, is the senior researcher, who has made the most significant contributions to the study. This author's contribution includes conceptualizing the research question, designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and writing the manuscript.


  • Providing leadership and direction for the research project
  • Designing and conducting experiments or studies
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Writing the initial draft of the manuscript
  • Ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the research
  • Communicating with co-authors


  • Making the most significant contributions to the research
  • Being primarily responsible for the conception and design of the study
  • Performing the majority of the experiments or data collection
  • Taking the lead in analyzing and interpreting the data
  • Writing the initial draft of the manuscript

Corresponding Author

The corresponding author handles communication with the journal editor and readers after the paper is published. This includes responding to inquiries, providing additional information, and handling post-publication issues.


  • Serving as the primary contact for communication with the journal
  • Ensuring that all necessary submission requirements are met
  • Responding to editorial inquiries and decisions
  • Communicating with co-authors regarding the manuscript status
  • Handling post-publication correspondence
  • Addressing any issues or concerns after publication

Relationship with First Author

The first author and corresponding author may be the same person or different co-authors co-corresponding authors, depending on the research team journal editor's decision.

Co-Authors and Senior Author

Co-authors are researchers who have made significant contributions to the study but are not the first or corresponding authors of the final manuscript.


  • Providing expertise and support in their specific areas of contribution
  • Assisting with experimental design, data collection, or analysis
  • Reviewing and providing feedback on manuscript drafts
  • Ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the research
  • Communicating with the first author and corresponding author
  • Agreeing to the final version of the manuscript before submission


  • Making a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution, or interpretation of the research
  • Being involved in drafting or revising the manuscript for important intellectual content
  • Approving the final version of the manuscript to be published
  • Agreeing to be accountable for all aspects of the work


The order of co-authors is typically determined by their relative contributions to the study, based on factors such as time invested, the significance of the co-first’ contributions last author's name, and expertise.

In fields like theoretical computer science, authors are generally listed alphabetically to signify equal contributions to the ideas, and advisors typically do not add themselves as authors even if they make minor contributions.

Resolving Authorship Disputes

A. Common causes of authorship disputes

Authorship disputes can arise from various factors, such as disagreements about the significance of individual contributions, misunderstandings regarding authorship criteria, and lack of clear communication among team members.

Power imbalances and seniority issues within the research team can also contribute to conflicts, as well as pressure to publish and advance careers. Cultural differences in norms and expectations surrounding authorship and peer review can further complicate these situations.

B. Strategies for preventing authorship conflicts

To prevent authorship disputes, it is crucial for research teams must have each team to have open discussions about authorship roles and expectations early in the research process. Establishing clear guidelines for authorship criteria and responsibilities can help ensure that all team members understand what is required to be listed as an author.

Regular communication about project progress and individual contributions can also help maintain transparency and address potential issues before they escalate. Documenting contributions and decisions that authors contribute to throughout the project can provide a clear record for reference.

Researchers should also be open about any potential conflicts of interest and strive to foster a collaborative and respectful team environment. When needed, seeking guidance from institutional policies or mentors can help navigate authorship questions.

Medical journal editors, following the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines, play a crucial role in setting authorship criteria and resolving disputes.

C. Methods for resolving authorship disputes

When authorship disputes arise, the first step should be to refer to the authorship guidelines established at the beginning of the project. Open and honest discussion among all team members is essential to understanding different perspectives and finding a resolution.

If the dispute cannot be resolved internally, seeking mediation from a neutral third party, such as an ombudsperson, publication ethics, or research integrity office, can be helpful. Institutional policies and guidelines may also guide resolving authorship conflicts.

In some cases, alternative forms of acknowledgment, such as a footnote or acknowledgments section, may be appropriate for contributions that do not meet the criteria for authorship credit. If the dispute involves violations of research integrity or contractual agreements, legal action may be necessary as a last resort.

Throughout the dispute resolution process, all parties need to maintain a commitment to fairness, integrity, and finding a mutually agreeable solution. By addressing conflicts constructively and professionally, research teams can minimize the negative impact of authorship disputes on their work and relationships.

This article discusses the significance of author order in research papers, highlighting the roles of the first author, corresponding author, second author, and co-authors. It explores various authorship conventions like alphabetical order, contribution-based order, and seniority-based order, noting differences across disciplines and journals.

The article also addresses resolving authorship disputes, emphasizing the importance of preventing conflicts and resolving them effectively. Understanding and adhering to authorship guidelines are crucial for fair credit attribution, maintaining professional integrity, and fostering a positive research environment.

Author order impacts career progression, funding opportunities, and professional reputation. Researchers should familiarize themselves with discipline-specific conventions and criteria to make informed decisions about their contributions and recognition.

The article encourages open communication within research teams to establish clear authorship roles and expectations. Discussing authorship early and regularly, setting guidelines, and documenting decisions can minimize conflicts. A collaborative and respectful team environment is vital for successful research projects and scientific advancement.

In conclusion, understanding the importance of author order and the influencing factors is essential for navigating academic publishing. By staying informed, communicating openly, and following guidelines, researchers can ensure fair recognition of contributions and productive collaborations.

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