Decoding authorship: author, co-author, corresponding author

More often than not, a journal publication has attributions to multiple authors. However, when it comes to formal submissions, citation, and accreditation, the differences in the role played by the multiple collaborators need to be clarified; both amongst the authors themselves and between the authors and the journal to which they submit their article for publication.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when deciding on the authorship of an article publication.

Technically, the author is the one who is the principal architect of the article. Co-authors are those who work in tandem with the author to help them write the content. Co-authors are a kind of author who works with the main author and helps them give shape to the content as per the vision or ideation of the author.

There is often confusion about hierarchy and many suppose that the most senior colleague has to be the author while juniors join as co-authors. This is not necessarily always true. In some cases, when a senior scientist undertakes a major research project, they may ask their junior colleagues to help write an article even while the senior colleague is still the main architect of the entire project. In such cases, the senior colleague is the author while all juniors are co-authors.

However, there may also be situations where research scholars publish articles as part of their Ph.D. programs while their supervisors collaborate as co-authors. In such cases, the main author is still the research scholar who writes on his thesis work and the supervisor helps ensure the quality of work.

In the case of multi-disciplinary studies, two divergent subject experts may simultaneously develop an article with each working on the section specific to their field. They may mutually agree upon author co-authorship for such works.

Being a co-author does not mean one is absolved of all major responsibilities of the content or liabilities in case it is challenged. Most journals understand as a co-author one:

  • Has made significant contributions to the research and drafting of the article.
  • Has been actively engaged in drafting of the submitted manuscript, including revising or critically reviewing the submission.
  • Have agreed to submit to the journal for publication and thereby agrees to abide by all instructions for authors given by the journal.
  • Agrees to be accountable for the contents of the article and thereby shares the responsibility to respond to queries on the content along with the author.

Every journal submission requires the group of authors to identify the Corresponding author for the publication. The corresponding author is responsible for getting all approvals from fellow authors and is the principal point of contact for communicating with the journal. In the case of peer reviews, the journal will only communicate to the corresponding-author and in turn, it is the latter’s responsibility to respond back to the journal the collective opinion of the authors.

Either the author or co-author may nominate themselves as the corresponding author by mutual agreement unless the journal instructions specify otherwise.