grad skool rulz #35: co-authoring

I was recently asked about co-authoring. How does a graduate student co-author? Is it good to do so? What are the rules?

1. In general, co-authoring is a good thing. You’ll see that most successful graduate students publish with faculty or student co-authors. Brian Uzzi’s work shows that co-authorship (vs. solo authorship) is correlated with citations and impact. There are exceptions. For example, many hiring and promotion committees will want to see at least one article sole authored. Of course, much qualitative work is also single authored.

2. How to find co-authors: Usually, people in most fields are used to co-authoring. You can ask faculty for help, they might approach you, or you can recruit buddies. In general, c0-authoring is serious business. Research is time intensive and it can shape your career. So choose partners who are (a) reliable and (b) bring something to the table. With respect to (b), the co-author can have a technical skill, area of knowledge, or simple be a good “sounding” board that writes/co-writes the article.

3. How to do it: This varies a great deal. I’ve done the full range. In some cases, you write most of it and co-authors do a little extra work. Other cases, the work is equally divided. In yet other cases, you do a modest amount.  But it really helps to lay it out early. For example, in my work with Michael Heaney, we always jointly work out the argument and data analysis, but the actual writing shifts back and forth.

4. Author order: Every discipline has different rules. These include alphabetical, by seniority, the biomedical model (lead author firsts, senior person last, and fighting for middle sports) and “higher is better” (i.e., the more work you do, the more toward the top you get). In sociology, we do “higher is better” unless it’s clear that it’s alphabetical. So it is important to not get buried as author #6. Though, in some cases, there is such a premium on top journals that even author #6 on an ASR or AJS article will get a huge career pay off.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz 

Written by fabiorojas

March 25, 2014 at 12:34 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

5 Responses

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  1. We’ve been talking about this lately. Some comments from our discussions. (1) Clear division of labor and statement of expectations early are important/essential. Decide who will do what and set deadlines for each other. Writing a paper involves doing things, not just talking. (2) Agree early on about the rules of the game for authorship order. Even if you are junior and scared of the senior person, you are much better off bringing up the subject and asking questions than making assumptions and feeling exploited later. (3) Every paper has one owner who is the first author. The owner calls the shots about what happens with the paper. (4) In sociology, being 3rd or lower, and possibly even 2nd or lower, in a long list of authors may be a great learning experience and well worth doing, but it will get you very little credit, no matter where the article is published. (5) Very senior coauthors will be given disproportionate credit for the paper no matter whose name is listed first. But coauthoring with a very senior person is often still worth it for the learning experience, mentoring, and help getting published. (6) If you hope to get a job/tenure, write at least something alone so your “voice” can be identified and/or be the first author on papers with people junior to you.



    March 25, 2014 at 1:11 am

  2. I forgot, (7) An advantage of coauthoring is that the coauthors become external deadlines and help you get things done. It also gets you away from the lonely isolation of ruminating and writer’s block. If you’re stuck, maybe your coauthor can move things forward.



    March 25, 2014 at 1:17 am

  3. +1 on original post and on comments. (Hmm, I guess that should be +3.)


    Andrew Gelman

    March 25, 2014 at 6:21 am

  4. From the hiring side at smaller schools, I’ll just reiterate that it is important to be first author on at least one thing — even for a liberal arts job. Prestige of the journal is nice, but a legit second tier journal is enough. What we really want to see is if a job candidate can take a whole project through to completion. This involves more than just putting together a solid manuscript; it also includes a bunch of little things (the initial cover letter to the editor, knowing which reviewer comments to address and which to ignore, the response letter, etc.). When we look at the CV, we assume that the first author does all of these little things. And if the second author is the first author’s advisor, we assume the advisor had a heavy hand in that process, too. For smaller schools like mine, we don’t expect you to be a star, we just want to know you can swim on your own upon arrival.



    March 25, 2014 at 1:34 pm

  5. This is something to think about beyond grad school, too, while someone is on the tenure track. I think new faculty are sometimes so concerned about having sole-authored publications when they go up for tenure that they overlook the potential benefits. In addition to the selling points outlined above, at Notre Dame at least, faculty publishing with students is often seen as a “publication+.” It’s a sign not just of research productivity, but of mentoring.



    March 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

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