Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A New Hat: Co-authoring My First Journal Paper

My academic career is adding a new hat to my arsenal of job descriptions: co-author. I'm working on my very first paper for submission to a journal - I have two conference papers under my belt, and it's time to step it up a notch.

A classmate and I did a rather neat set of experiments as our class project this last semester. We got good experimental results, and did some very nice statistical analysis of the data.

So the work was done like this: I produced the parts using the equipment I built and did the measurements to produce the data. I also wrote the introduction and experimental method section of the class project paper. My classmate did all the statistical analysis (quite a substantial amount of work), and wrote the Results and Conclusions section of the class paper.

Now we are preparing the paper we wrote for the class project for submission to the ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering. My classmate is all gungho about this, and has kind of taken the lead on revising the paper, looking up more references we might need to include, etc.

I haven't had time to be as involved because I just got done graduating.

So I got his latest version of the paper yesterday, and the first thing I thought was - I wonder whoose name he put as first author on this baby? His own, of course.

And at first I was miffed, and then I realized it's probably appropriate. I was miffed because this is a paper in MY research area, not his (we're just classmates, he works in a different lab in a completely different area), and I was the one who made the parts and produced the data.

But then I realized that of the 23 pages in the paper (don't get me started - I know it's too long...), only five are things I wrote. The other pages and figures all deal with the statistical analysis and modeling, which my classmate did. And, my classmate has been the one pushing this paper. Also in the back of my mind is the fact that I have just started my PhD career, and I will have plenty of chances for first-author papers in the future.

So I think I'm not going to press the issue of who is first author. Besides, if I'm second author it means I am not expected to do as much work, right? :)

But now as I am reviewing the draft he sent over, I'm having trouble deciding how much I should comment/change. Do I change wordings and sentences which are probably fine, but I would have written differently? Do I delete whole sections, because I think the whole paper is too long? And at what point do I show this paper to my advisor, the PI? After all revisions between classmate and I, or now before we get too far into it?

I've never co-authored anything before, and this new hat has not settled onto my head yet. I guess I'll just have to squash it on for now, it might take a while to break it in.


  1. Quicky comment as I'm about to go to work; see if the publishing house have guideline about that (do they ask each and every author for their contribution?); I seem to recall having seen some guideline posted on the web but I dont have the url right now.

    For the record, I'm also author on a paper which is in preparation and I handled some data collection as well as a few other issues but didn't write anything or done any analysis on the data.

    will post again with some more help this evening.


  2. I found the guideline I had in mind this morning, it's located at and while the guideline cover biomedical science, the part about authorship should help in your case.

    Hope it help and if it doesn't, let me know and I'll try to help some more.