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How to Order Authors in Scientific Papers

order of authors research paper

It’s rare that an article is authored by only one or two people anymore. In fact, the average original research paper has five authors these days. The growing list of collaborative research projects raises important questions regarding the author order for research manuscripts and the impact an author list has on readers’ perceptions.

With a handful of authors, a group might be inclined to create an author name list based on the amount of work contributed. What happens, though, when you have a long list of authors? It would be impractical to rank the authors by their relative contributions. Additionally, what if the authors contribute relatively equal amounts of work? Similarly, if a study was interdisciplinary (and many are these days), how can one individual’s contribution be deemed more significant than another’s?

Why does author order matter?

Although an author list should only reflect those who have made substantial contributions to a research project and its draft manuscript (see, for example, the authorship guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors ), we’d be remiss to say that author order doesn’t matter. In theory, everyone on the list should be credited equally since it takes a team to successfully complete a project; however, due to industry customs and other practical limitations, some authors will always be more visible than others.

The following are some notable implications regarding author order.

  • The “first author” is a coveted position because of its increased visibility. This author is the first name readers will see, and because of various citation rules, publications are usually referred to by the name of the first author only. In-text or bibliographic referencing rules, for example, often reduce all other named authors to “et al.” Since employers use first-authorship to evaluate academic personnel for employment, promotion, and tenure, and since graduate students often need a number of first-author publications to earn their degree, being the lead author on a manuscript is crucial for many researchers, especially early in their career.
  • The last author position is traditionally reserved for the supervisor or principal investigator. As such, this person receives much of the credit when the research goes well and the flak when things go wrong. The last author may also be the corresponding author, the person who is the primary contact for journal editors (the first author could, however, fill this role as well, especially if they contributed most to the work).
  • Given that there is no uniform rule about author order, readers may find it difficult to assess the nature of an author’s contribution to a research project. To address this issue, some journals, particularly medical ones, nowadays insist on detailed author contribution notes (make sure you check the target journal guidelines before submission to find out how the journal you are planning to submit to handles this). Nevertheless, even this does little to counter how strongly citation rules have enhanced the attention first-named authors receive.

Common Methods for Listing Authors

The following are some common methods for establishing author order lists.

  • Relative contribution. As mentioned above, the most common way authors are listed is by relative contribution. The author who made the most substantial contribution to the work described in an article and did most of the underlying research should be listed as the first author. The others are ranked in descending order of contribution. However, in many disciplines, such as the life sciences, the last author in a group is the principal investigator or “senior author”—the person who often provides ideas based on their earlier research and supervised the current work.
  • Alphabetical list . Certain fields, particularly those involving large group projects, employ other methods . For example, high-energy particle physics teams list authors alphabetically.
  • Multiple “first” authors . Additional “first” authors (so-called “co-first authors”) can be noted by an asterisk or other symbols accompanied by an explanatory note. This practice is common in interdisciplinary studies; however, as we explained above, the first name listed on a paper will still enjoy more visibility than any other “first” author.
  • Multiple “last” authors . Similar to recognizing several first authors, multiple last authors can be recognized via typographical symbols and footnotes. This practice arose as some journals wanted to increase accountability by requiring senior lab members to review all data and interpretations produced in their labs instead of being awarded automatic last-authorship on every publication by someone in their group.
  • Negotiated order . If you were thinking you could avoid politics by drowning yourself in research, you’re sorely mistaken. While there are relatively clear guidelines and practices for designating first and last authors, there’s no overriding convention for the middle authors. The list can be decided by negotiation, so sharpen those persuasive argument skills!

As you can see, choosing the right author order can be quite complicated. Therefore, we urge researchers to consider these factors early in the research process and to confirm this order during the English proofreading process, whether you self-edit or received manuscript editing or paper editing services , all of which should be done before submission to a journal. Don’t wait until the manuscript is drafted before you decide on the author order in your paper. All the parties involved will need to agree on the author list before submission, and no one will want to delay submission because of a disagreement about who should be included on the author list, and in what order (along with other journal manuscript authorship issues).

On top of that, journals sometimes have clear rules about changing authors or even authorship order during the review process, might not encourage it, and might require detailed statements explaining the specific contribution of every new/old author, official statements of agreement of all authors, and/or a corrigendum to be submitted, all of which can further delay the publication process. We recommend periodically revisiting the named author issue during the drafting stage to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the list is updated to appropriately reflect changes in team composition or contributions to a research project.

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order of authors research paper

Who’s on first? Duking out scientific paper authorship order

It's been over 80 years, but Abbott and Costello's famous comedic skit " Who's on First" lives on in our collective memories. Their increasingly ridiculous conversation about baseball and the name of the player on first base can still reliably produce a giggle in many circles.

But in the lab , questions about order can be anything but a laughing matter -- particularly when it comes to the list of authors on a scientific paper. Many nonscientists don't realize that, traditionally, the most important places on the roster are the first -- indicating the person who conceived of and performed most of the research discussed in the paper -- and the last -- a hallowed place reserved for the senior scientist in whose laboratory the research was conducted.

In the biomedical research world, having many "first authorship" papers is largely seen as an indication of a scientist's skill and tenacity; researchers with many "senior authorship" papers often garner a reputation of strong leadership and high productivity.

But as the National Institutes of Health and other funders increasingly reward collaborative research, and scientific projects grow more complex, determining authorship order is becoming less clear. Some are even venturing outside the lab to do so.

Authorship smash down

Recently Stanford researcher Garry Nolan , PhD, tweeted about an unconventional way two researchers in his laboratory who had each contributed equally to a study decided who should be listed first on the print version of the paper.

The researchers, graduate students Bokai Zhu and Yunhao Bai , played three games of Mario Kart's Super Smash Bros. ; the winner, Bai, was awarded top billing, and was permitted to list himself as the first author on his resume (called a curriculum vitae , or CV, in science circles). A footnote to the authorship list notes that Zhu and Bai contributed equally to the paper's contents and can consider themselves co-first authors on their CVs.

"All the important results are already in the paper itself . We thought, why not use this opportunity to have some fun?" Zhu said, in a recent conversation with my colleague Lisa Kim for her new video series " 90 seconds with Lisa Kim ."

"As science has become more multidisciplinary and collaborative, it becomes more difficult to determine who should receive credit for a group's findings," Nolan said. "It's not unusual for a scientific paper to have a dozen or more authors from multiple labs or institutions, and assigning authorship order becomes increasingly difficult."

In response, scientists like Zhu and Bai are becoming more creative. As on their paper, footnotes are increasingly used in print or online versions of a study to indicate authors (both first and last) who contributed equally to the paper's findings. "There's also a movement toward agreeing that each co-first or co-last author may list themselves as first or last author on their own CV," Nolan said.

Agreeing to ... agree

But as long as the "first or last" rubric remains, researchers are going to have to come to ways to agree. Much hinges on the ability of the authors to collaboratively decide whose careers could benefit the most from the extra boost. Sometimes that might mean that a lab leader cedes last authorship to a senior lab member who will soon be launching a job hunt, or for a postdoctoral researcher to allow a soon-to-graduate PhD student to list themselves first.

"To me, a key purpose of an academic institution is to advance the careers of your students, teach them the ways of science, and hopefully impart some wisdom while also doing important scientific work," Nolan said. "If a funding institution is going to demand cooperation and collaboration, we as scientists need to adapt. Right now, it depends on people being gracious."

Or, perhaps, a friendly video game smackdown? Maybe next time they'll play Mario Super Sluggers , instead!

Photo by  Ryan Quintal

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The Ethics of Manuscript Authorship: Best Practices for Attribution

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), has established four criteria that each author of a paper should meet. This article and our free white paper, Credit Where Credit Is Due, detail and explore these criteria.

Updated on July 25, 2013


Authorship is becoming an increasingly complicated issue as research collaborations proliferate, the importance of citations for tenure and grants persists, and no consensus on a definition is reached. This issue is fraught with ethical implications because clearly conveying who is responsible for published work is integral to scientific integrity.

Many journals currently adhere to the guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which has established four criteria that each author of a paper should meet:

  • Significant involvement in study conception/design, data collection, or data analysis/interpretation;
  • Involvement in drafting or revising manuscript;
  • Approval of final version of manuscript for publication; and
  • Responsibility for accuracy and integrity of all aspects of research.

Download our free white paper on authorship for a copy of these criteria and our suggestions for choosing authors appropriately.

Moreover, by the ICMJE definition, authors “should be able to identify which co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work...[and] have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.” Based on this description and the fourth criterion, authorship implies not only past individual contribution to a research project but also ongoing joint accountability for that project. As a result, authors may share fame or infamy, depending on the validity of the work.

The ICMJE also notes that an author must have made “substantive intellectual contributions” to the manuscript. Creative input is thus more eligible for authorship than purely mechanical work. A technician merely acquiring data, a senior researcher only obtaining funding or providing supervision, a collaborator solely providing a new reagent or samples, and other research-related but non-creative tasks do not merit authorship on their own. These individuals and their contributions could be cited in an acknowledgments section instead.

Despite this clearly outlined definition, numerous issues (including ethical concerns) have arisen regarding authorship attribution. These issues have emerged partly because many journals continue to adhere to their own guidelines or to various modified versions of the ICMJE criteria (see, for example, Table 2 in this EMBO reports article ) and partly because the ICMJE guidelines may be insufficient, as argued at the 2012 International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution . A selection of topics that is specifically pertinent to academia is as follows:

Contribution ambiguity

The specific roles of individual authors in a research project are not always clear, especially when a manuscript is attributed to a large group. To address this problem, several journals (such as PNAS ) require public disclosure of the specific contributions of each author. Some have also suggested the establishment of a database or the use of existing research community networks (such as ResearchGate ) to track contributions. This tracking is particularly relevant because scholarly output is increasingly defined by metrics beyond paper citations (also known as altmetrics ). To further clarify the roles of authors and encourage integrity, certain journals require a public guarantor for each article, or an author who takes responsibility for the entire research project, including conception, data acquisition and analysis, and publication. Ambiguity surrounding authorship may also arise from the publication of papers by researchers with the same name but could be minimized by the use of an ORCID identifier .

Authorship order

The meaning of the list order of authors on a paper varies between fields. In certain areas, the list is alphabetical, whereas in others, the convention includes citing every person who contributed in some way to the project (which may conflict with the ICMJE guidelines). In many disciplines, the author order indicates the magnitude of contribution, with the first author adding the most value and the last author representing the most senior, predominantly supervisory role. In this model, disputes may arise regarding who merits sole or shared first authorship. The Committee on Publication Ethics recommends that researchers discuss authorship order from project initiation to manuscript submission, revising as necessary, and record each decision in writing. Furthermore, contributions could be quantified, such as based on a points system (subscription required) , to facilitate authorship decisions.

Honorary authorship

Honorary authorship is given to an individual despite a lack of substantial contributions to a research project. One form, gift authorship , is bestowed out of respect for or gratitude to an individual. For example, in Asian cultures, departmental heads or senior researchers may be added to a paper regardless of their involvement in the research. Another form, guest authorship , may be used for multiple purposes, including to increase the apparent quality of a paper by adding a well-known name or to conceal a paper's industry ties by including an academic author. Additional issues regarding honorary authorship are the inclusion of an author on a manuscript without his or her permission (which is often prevented by journal guidelines that require the consent of all authors) and coercive authorship , which typically consists of a senior researcher (such as a dissertation advisor) forcing a junior researcher (such as a graduate student) to include a gift or guest author.

Honorary authorship is a major ethical issue in scholarly publication, as this dishonest practice was found in approximately 18% of articles in six medical journals in 2008. From the standpoint of journals, lists of specific contributions may help to minimize this practice, as could reminders that all authors are accountable for the integrity of a published work. The institution of double-blind peer review could also decrease the influence of authors' prominence in the field on journal acceptance. At research institutions, guidelines could equate honorary authorship with research misconduct. Additionally, the donation of resources to a project without the expectation of automatic authorship could be encouraged by the use of contributions, including those listed in acknowledgments sections, as a measure of output, as discussed above.

In all cases described here, more universal standards for manuscript authorship will be critical for fostering good practices. As you write and review manuscripts, remember the best practices found in this white paper , and consider ways to bring authorship credit and accountability to the attention of your colleagues and readers.

Michaela Panter, Writing Support Consultant at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, PhD, Immunobiology, Yale University

Michaela Panter, PhD

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Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.


What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section. 
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered.  Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References.  Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures  – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first). 
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun).  In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research.  Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely.  You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.  

External Resources

  • Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
  • How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
  • WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper
  • Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

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Deciding authorship order

  • Related content
  • Peer review
  • P M Brennan , clinical lecturer in neurosurgery 1 ,
  • A Jubb , clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine 2 ,
  • J K Baillie , clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine 2 ,
  • R W Partridge , clinical lecturer in paediatric surgery 3
  • 1 University of Edinburgh, Department of Neurosurgery, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK
  • 2 University of Edinburgh, Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4SA, UK
  • 3 Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh EH9 1LF, UK
  • Correspondence to: J K Baillie  j.k.baillie{at}ed.ac.uk
  • Accepted 8 November 2013

The order of authors on this article was determined by an indisputable rule developed in the school playground, the “bagsy”

Authorship of academic papers has become increasingly problematic in recent years. Many ambitious studies require large consortia in which the contributions of individuals are difficult to discern from a simple list of authors, 1 leading some groups to do without authors altogether and others to call for wholesale reform of the system. 2 3 Funding decisions place increasing reliance on publication records, and research quality measures place particular weight on authors’ positions. 4 This can lead to many problems. 5 Authors can be jostled out of their deserved position by the spurious elevation of minor contributors to the prestigious last (senior) authorship position. 6 Confusing attempts to share credit can also occur through use of the inevitably misleading phrase “these authors contributed equally to this work.” 7

Human interaction in many fields encounters the problem of how to allocate a perceived future reward. We report one solution originating from a highly conserved social environment with an innate sense of fairness, in which a near-ubiquitous set of rules has gained close to universal peer acceptance: the school playground. 8 The rule developed herein for the allocation of reward has been refined over centuries, spanning multifarious social, cultural, and language barriers; it seems to be based on unassailable logic and rapidly produces incontrovertible decisions. It is the “bagsy.”

Bagsy (US: “Dibs,” “Yoink;” Fr: “Prems”), deriving from the phrase “bags I,” is an informal word to indicate success in securing something for oneself. 9 Its utterance indicates an irrefutable claim to the object sought by the speaker. The bagsy may be an effective and readily accepted solution to the problem of authorship ordering. ⇓

A highly conserved social environment with an innate sense of fairness and where a near-ubiquitous set of rules has gained close to universal peer acceptance

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Two of us (JKB, AJ) inadvertently put this hypothesis to the test, and the outcome of this test is described here. AJ and JKB (both anaesthetists) contacted colleagues by email suggesting a neat and straightforward study with a high probability of publication in a prestigious journal. No authorship claim was discussed at that stage. We retrospectively recorded key measures of “bagsy activity” (time to first bagsy, mean bagsy delay, and interval to global acceptance).

The time to first bagsy was five hours. The first colleague (neurosurgery) to respond made some fairly pedestrian alterations to the study design and bagsied the first author position. The second responder (paediatric surgery) replied after a further 14 minutes (mean bagsy delay five hours seven minutes) and bagsied the last (most prestigious) spot. After a brief confusion when another author (anaesthesia) called “shotgun” to no avail (in some cultures, shotgun is thought to usurp bagsy), this arrangement was accepted as irrefragably fair after a further delay of 184 minutes (interval to global acceptance: eight hours eight minutes).

This study shows the potential utility of the bagsy system as a solution to the increasingly intractable problems of allocation of authorship on research papers. Long term follow-up studies will be needed to identify adverse effects and explore the potential for harm. So far, we are all still on speaking terms. Although this study was not designed to determine specialty specific effects, the trend towards faster bagsying among surgical colleagues is of interest and consistent with previous, albeit catastrophically flawed, work showing the superior efficiency and intellect of surgeons. 10 11 We recognise that one limitation of the study is the uncertain generalisability of our findings to other populations. We cannot rule out significant cultural biases affecting this system, as the two surgeons were both brought up in Yorkshire. The proposal for authorship agreements to be made before the start of a study is sage, but a danger remains that, especially in larger studies, multi-author blindness will prevent effective control of jostling behaviours less equitable than the bagsy.

Bagsy 12 —To claim something for yourself by uttering the word “bagsy” followed by the object of your desire

Shotgun 12 —First person to call “shotgun!” earns the privilege of sitting in the front passenger seat of an automobile

Yorkshireman 12 —A man from Yorkshire. A highly coveted attribute achievable only by having a mother with sufficient foresight. Known for generosity of spirit in all matters financial

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7182

Contributors: JKB conceived and conducted the study. PB got in first with a bagsy. RWP bagsied second but in many respects more wisely. AJ made a cultural misjudgment and attempted to claim shotgun. It’s not shotgun. It’s bagsies. JKB and AJ abandoned the original study and wrote this article instead, preserving the original author list out of respect for the magnificently shameless presumption of their coauthors. All authors, in one way or another, contributed equally to this work (see text). All authors approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests: We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

Provenance: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • ↵ Chatrchyan S, Khachatryan V, Sirunyan AM, Tumasyan A, Adam W, Bergauer T, et al. Search for the standard model Higgs boson in the decay channel H→ZZ→4ℓ in pp collisions at √s=7 TeV. Phys Rev Lett 2012 ; 108 : 111804 . OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed
  • ↵ The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium. A map of human genome variation from population-scale sequencing. Nature 2010 ; 467 : 1061 -73. OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed Web of Science
  • ↵ Molla M, Gardner T. Roll credits: sometimes the authorship byline isn’t enough. 2007. http://blogs.plos.org/plos/2007/11/roll-credits-sometimes-the-authorship-byline-isnt-enough/ .
  • ↵ Research Excellence Framework. Panel criteria and working methods. 2012. www.ref.ac.uk/pubs/2012-01/ .
  • ↵ Zhao D, Strotmann A. Counting first, last, or all authors in citation analysis: a comprehensive comparison in the highly collaborative stem cell research field. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 2011 ; 62 : 654 -76. OpenUrl CrossRef
  • ↵ Baillie JK, Thompson AAR, Bates MGD, Schnopp MS, Simpson A, Partridge RW. The Chacaltaya High Altitude Laboratory. J R Coll Physicians Edinb 2004 ; 34 : 130 -3. OpenUrl
  • ↵ Baillie JK, Barnett MW, Upton KR, Gerhardt DJ, Richmond TA, De Sapio F, et al. Somatic retrotransposition alters the genetic landscape of the human brain. Nature 2011 ; 479 : 534 -7. OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed Web of Science
  • ↵ Rund S. The lore of the playground: one hundred years of children’s games, rhymes and traditions. Random House Press, 2010.
  • ↵ Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • ↵ McCain RS, Harris AR, McCallion K, Campbell WJ, Kirk SJ. The barrier method as a new tool to assist in career selection: covert observational study. BMJ 2010 ; 341 : c6968 . OpenUrl Abstract / FREE Full Text
  • ↵ Subramanian P, Kantharuban S, Subramanian V, Willis-Owen SAG, Willis-Owen CA. Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study. BMJ 2011 ; 343 : d7506 . OpenUrl Abstract / FREE Full Text
  • ↵ Urban Dictionary. Bagsy. www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bagsy .

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What author order can (and cannot) tell us: Understanding contributorship

People on a staircase

Written by Lindsay Morton

Welcome back to the second in our three-part series on academic credit. In this post, we focus on identifying researchers’ specific contributions to a research project, and explore how those contributions are reflected on a published paper. Authorship is central to the reward system of science and directly impacts each researchers’ career prospects. Yet standards for allocating authorship are variable, and often opaque. What types of contributions merit inclusion on an author list? How are we to understand the contributions of each researcher who is included on the list?

Identifying specific author contributions

In the biological and medical sciences, the degree of public credit a researcher receives for a publication is based on their position within the author list. While the significance of author order varies across disciplines and cultures, traditionally, there are two highly valued and much-coveted positions: first author, credited with conceptualizing and executing the central parts of the study, and last author, occupying the most senior, supervisory position. That can be problematic, because it does not provide a consistent and fair way to acknowledge the essential contributions of midlist authors. An average author list cannot communicate, for example, who developed critical methods, collected the data, ran the analysis, or wrote the first draft. In some cases, an author list may also include honorary authors, either as an expression of esteem, in an attempt to leverage a famous name, or because the honorary author has asked to be included in all publications within their sphere.

The inadequacy of the author list as a vehicle for expressing author contribution is also evident in team science. As research becomes increasingly cross-disciplinary and complex, in many cases, it’s no longer possible for one person to lead and execute all aspects of a study. In team science, instead of organizing themselves hierarchically, researchers work together, with two or more equal partners taking on the responsibilities of a senior researcher within their specific areas of expertise, for example data collection and stewardship, statistics and design, coding, or methodological development. Our systems for allocating and representing academic credit have not kept pace with the ways researchers work today.

The importance and yet the ambiguity of the author list creates, at the very least, inaccurate and unfair perceptions about the contributions and capabilities of the researchers involved. It can also conceal bias and work to keep researchers from under-represented groups in midlist, junior roles. Because the allocation of credit is so central to how a research scientist is perceived, and to the future of their career, a fair and accurate representation of each author’s contribution is vital.

Solution: Tracking all author contributions with CRediT

CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) is a universal, community-developed open classification system that uses 14 different roles to describe the aspects of scientific authorship, from conceptualization to review and editing. Each author listed on a manuscript is assigned one or more taxonomic roles. Role assignments appear on the final published research article and are encoded into article meta-data where they can be harvested by databases and indexers.

The granularity of the CRediT taxonomy diminishes the importance of author order. For example, tenure applicants need not be evaluated on how many times they were listed as first author, but on their specific contributions to each work. The CRediT taxonomy also reinforces the author qualification guidelines by clearly highlighting instances of honorary authorship to authors at submission, giving them the opportunity to pause and consider the composition of their author list.

The CRediT taxonomy distinguishes itself from other, publisher- or discipline-specific author taxonomies in that it is both broadly applicable within the sciences and widely accepted, enabling it to establish norms and shared understanding across publishers, funders, and universities.

PLOS was part of the working group that originally developed and tested the CRediT taxonomy. When the system was finalized , PLOS transitioned from our previous, publisher-specific taxonomy to the new tool.

A meta-analysis of the CRediT taxonomy

CRediT has opened new avenues for meta-research, enabling scientists to better understand not only how each other contributed to the work, but to begin to identify and interpret patterns in contributorship that expose larger truths about the way science operates, and can point the way toward more efficient, robust and inclusive scientific practices. In the video below, we chat with Dr Cassidy Sugimoto and Dr Vincent Larivière about their recent study “Investigating the division of scientific labor using the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT)” and discuss ideas for future studies.

Investigating the division of scientific labor using the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT)  Vincent Larivière, David Pontille, Cassidy R. Sugimoto 

More opportunities for authorship

As the CRediT taxonomy helps to illustrate, writing articles is just one small part of conducting research. In addition to properly allocating credit for traditional research articles and peer review, Open Science also offers new opportunities to surface, share, and receive credit for more of the research process, including both open data and open methods, such as Registered Reports, Lab and Study Protocols, Methods Research Articles, and linked code. Sharing these research outputs as stand-alone resources allows them to accumulate citations in their own right, independent of the main research article, and increases discoverability by creating more points of entry. At the same time, making research artifacts public enhances trust in related research articles. Over time, a pattern of openness can help to build a reputation for high-quality research, collaborative sharing, and leadership.

In the next post in this series, we’ll discuss the importance of peer review, and how we can better acknowledge and reward the contributions peer reviewers make to published research. 

Written by Lindsay Morton In the sciences, credit counts. As a research scientist, your personal record directly determines your future opportunities in…

Written by Lindsay Morton In this third and final entry in our three-part series on academic credit, we turn our attention to…

For PLOS, increasing data-sharing rates—and especially increasing the amount of data shared in a repository—is a high priority. Research data is a…

  • Published: 02 September 2020

Alphabetic order of authors in scholarly publications: a bibliometric study for 27 scientific fields

  • João M. Fernandes   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1174-1966 1 &
  • Paulo Cortez   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7991-2090 2  

Scientometrics volume  125 ,  pages 2773–2792 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Paper authorship and author placement have significant consequences for accountability and assignment of credit. Moreover, authors in different scientific fields tend to follow distinct approaches towards their ordering in scholarly publications. This manuscript presents a bibliometric study aiming to characterize the trends in the adoption of alphabetically ordered lists of authors in scholarly publications for 27 scientific fields. The study is supported by two different datasets (with 83 and 32 thousand papers that have two or more authors) and uses two indicators that measure the degree of order of the authors list of a set of articles. The main results show that three fields (Economics; Mathematics; and Business, Management and Accounting) have a strong alphabetic ordering usage, while other five scientific areas present some tendency to use lists of authors in alphabetic order.

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order of authors research paper

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This work has been supported by FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia within the R&D Units Project Scope: UIDB/00319/2020. We would like to thank Rui Mendes (from U. Minho) for the initial version of the Python program that was used to automatically calculate the various metrics for our datasets. We also acknowledge Jorge Sousa Pinto and José Nuno Oliveira (from U. Minho) for discussions on how to measure the order degree of a list. We thank the anonymous reviewers for the insightful comments that helped improving the contents of the manuscript.

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Fernandes, J.M., Cortez, P. Alphabetic order of authors in scholarly publications: a bibliometric study for 27 scientific fields. Scientometrics 125 , 2773–2792 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-020-03686-0

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How to Order and Format Author Names in Scientific Papers

David Costello

As the world becomes more interconnected, the production of knowledge increasingly relies on collaboration. Scientific papers, the primary medium through which researchers communicate their findings, often feature multiple authors. However, authorship isn't merely a reflection of those who contributed to a study but often denotes prestige, recognition, and responsibility. In academic papers, the order of authors is not arbitrary. It can symbolize the level of contribution and the role played by each author in the research process. Deciding on the author order can sometimes be a complex and sensitive issue, making it crucial to understand the different roles and conventions of authorship in scientific research. This article will explore the various types of authors found in scientific papers, guide you on how to correctly order and format author names, and offer insights to help you navigate this critical aspect of academic publishing.

The first author

The first author listed in a scientific paper is typically the person who has made the most substantial intellectual contribution to the work. This role is often filled by a junior researcher such as a Ph.D. student or postdoctoral fellow, who has been intimately involved in almost every aspect of the project.

The first author usually plays a pivotal role in designing and implementing the research, including the formation of hypotheses, experimental design, data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of the findings. They also commonly take the lead in manuscript preparation, writing substantial portions of the paper, including the often-challenging task of turning raw data into a compelling narrative.

In academia, first authorship is a significant achievement, a clear demonstration of a researcher's capabilities and dedication. It indicates that the researcher possesses the skills and tenacity to carry a project from inception to completion. This position can dramatically impact a researcher's career trajectory, playing a critical role in evaluations for promotions, grants, and future academic positions.

However, being the first author is not just about prestige or professional advancement. It carries a weight of responsibility. The first author is generally expected to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data presented in the paper. They are often the person who responds to reviewers' comments during the peer-review process and makes necessary revisions to the manuscript.

Also, as the first author, it is typically their duty to address any questions or critiques that may arise post-publication, often having to defend the work publicly, even years after publication.

Thus, first authorship is a role that offers significant rewards but also requires a strong commitment to uphold the principles of scientific integrity and transparency. While it's a coveted position that can be a steppingstone to career progression, the associated responsibilities and expectations mean that it should not be undertaken lightly.

The middle authors

The middle authors listed on a scientific paper occupy an essential, albeit sometimes ambiguous, role in the research project. They are typically those who have made significant contributions to the project, but not to the extent of the first author. This group often includes a mix of junior and senior researchers who have provided key input, assistance, or resources to the project.

The roles of middle authors can be quite diverse. Some might be involved in specific aspects of data collection or analysis. Others may bring specialized knowledge or technical skills essential to the project, providing expertise in a particular methodology, statistical analysis, or experimental technique. There might also be middle authors who have contributed vital resources to the project, such as unique reagents or access to a particular patient population.

In some fields, the order of middle authors reflects the degree of their contribution. The closer a middle author is to the first position, the greater their involvement, with the second author often having made the next largest contribution after the first author. This order may be negotiated among the authors, requiring clear communication and consensus.

However, in other disciplines, particularly those where large collaborative projects are common, the order of middle authors may not necessarily reflect their level of contribution. In such cases, authors might be listed alphabetically, or by some other agreed-upon convention. Therefore, it's crucial to be aware of the norms in your specific field when deciding the order of middle authors.

Being a middle author in a scientific paper carries less prestige and responsibility than being a first or last author, but it is by no means a minor role. Middle authors play a crucial part in the scientific endeavor, contributing essential expertise and resources. They are integral members of the research team whose collective efforts underpin the progress and achievements of the project. Without their diverse contributions, the scope and impact of scientific research would be significantly diminished.

The last author

In the listing of authors on a scientific paper, the final position carries a unique significance. It is typically occupied by the senior researcher, often the head of the laboratory or the principal investigator who has supervised the project. While they might not be involved in the day-to-day aspects of the work, they provide overarching guidance, mentorship, and often the resources necessary for the project's fruition.

The last author's role is multidimensional, often balancing the responsibilities of project management, funding acquisition, and mentorship. They guide the research's direction, help troubleshoot problems, and provide intellectual input to the project's design and interpretation of results. Additionally, they usually play a key role in the drafting and revision of the manuscript, providing critical feedback and shaping the narrative.

In academia, the last author position is a symbol of leadership and scientific maturity. It indicates that the researcher has progressed from being a hands-on contributor to someone who can guide a team, secure funding, and deliver significant research projects. Being the last author can have substantial implications for a researcher's career, signaling their ability to oversee successful projects and mentor the next generation of scientists.

However, along with prestige comes significant responsibility. The last author is often seen as the guarantor of the work. They are held accountable for the overall integrity of the study, and in cases where errors or issues arise, they are expected to take the lead in addressing them.

The convention of the last author as the senior researcher is common in many scientific disciplines, especially in the life and biomedical sciences. However, it's important to note that this is not a universal standard. In some fields, authors may be listed purely in the order of contribution or alphabetically. Therefore, an understanding of the specific norms and expectations of your scientific field is essential when considering author order.

In sum, the position of the last author, much like that of the first author, holds both honor and responsibility, reflecting a leadership role that goes beyond mere intellectual contribution to include mentorship, management, and accountability.

Formatting author names

When it comes to scientific publishing, details matter, and one such detail is the correct formatting of author names. While it may seem like a minor concern compared to the intellectual challenges of research, the proper formatting of author names is crucial for several reasons. It ensures correct attribution of work, facilitates accurate citation, and helps avoid confusion among researchers in the same field. This section will delve deeper into the conventions for formatting author names, offering guidance to ensure clarity and consistency in your scientific papers.

Typically, each author's full first name, middle initial(s), and last name are listed. It's crucial that the author's name is presented consistently across all their publications to ensure their work is correctly attributed and easily discoverable.

Here is a basic example following a common convention:

  • Standard convention: John D. Smith

However, conventions can vary depending on cultural naming practices. In many Western cultures, the first name is the given name, followed by the middle initial(s), and then the family name. On the other hand, in many East Asian cultures, the family name is listed first.

Here is an example following this convention:

  • Asian convention: Wang Xiao Long

When there are multiple authors, their names are separated by commas. The word "and" usually precedes the final author's name.

Here's how this would look:

  • John D. Smith, Jane A. Doe, and Richard K. Jones

However, author name formatting can differ among journals. Some may require initials instead of full first names, or they might have specific guidelines for handling hyphenated surnames or surnames with particles (e.g., "de," "van," "bin"). Therefore, it's always important to check the specific submission guidelines of the journal to which you're submitting your paper.

Moreover, the formatting should respect each author's preferred presentation of their name, especially if it deviates from conventional Western naming patterns. As the scientific community becomes increasingly diverse and global, it's essential to ensure that each author's identity is accurately represented.

In conclusion, the proper formatting of author names is a vital detail in scientific publishing, ensuring correct attribution and respect for each author's identity. It may seem a minor point in the grand scheme of a research project, but getting it right is an essential part of good academic practice.

The concept of authorship in scientific papers goes well beyond just listing the names of those involved in a research project. It carries critical implications for recognition, responsibility, and career progression, reflecting a complex nexus of contribution, collaboration, and intellectual leadership. Understanding the different roles, correctly ordering the authors, and appropriately formatting the names are essential elements of academic practice that ensure the rightful attribution of credit and uphold the integrity of scientific research.

Navigating the terrain of authorship involves managing both objective and subjective elements, spanning from the universally acknowledged conventions to the nuances particular to different scientific disciplines. Whether it's acknowledging the pivotal role of the first author who carried the project from the ground up, recognizing the valuable contributions of middle authors who provided key expertise, or highlighting the mentorship and leadership role of the last author, each position is an integral piece in the mosaic of scientific authorship.

Furthermore, beyond the order of authors, the meticulous task of correctly formatting the author names should not be underestimated. This practice is an exercise in precision, respect for individual identity, and acknowledgement of cultural diversity, reflecting the global and inclusive nature of contemporary scientific research.

As scientific exploration continues to move forward as a collective endeavor, clear and equitable authorship practices will remain crucial. These practices serve not only to ensure that credit is assigned where it's due but also to foster an environment of respect and transparency. Therefore, each member of the scientific community, from fledgling researchers to seasoned scientists, would do well to master the art and science of authorship in academic publishing. After all, it is through this collective recognition and collaboration that we continue to expand the frontiers of knowledge.

Header image by Jon Tyson .

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The meaning of author order in medical research


  • 1 University of Toronto Radiology Residency Training Program, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
  • PMID: 17651671
  • DOI: 10.2310/6650.2007.06044

Background: Manuscript authorship and author placement have important implications for accountability and allocation of credit. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between an author's place in the author list and the type of contribution reported by that author. This pattern was then used to develop a method by which author responsibility and accountability can be clarified.

Methods: The published contributions of each author of original research articles with a minimum of four authors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal in a 3-year period after author contribution forms were required were coded into 1 of eleven contribution categories. The contributions were grouped according to first, second, middle, and last author and compared by position.

Results: For most categories of contribution, the levels of participation were highest for first authors, followed by last and then second authors. Middle authors had lower levels particularly in conception, drafts of the manuscript, supervision, and being a guarantor.

Conclusions: Current patterns of author order and contribution suggest a consistent theme. Based on the results, a proposal is put forth by which author accountability is clarified. In this proposal, authors are classified as either "primary," "contributing," or "senior or supervisory," each with specified contributions. More than one author may be classified into each author category.

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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  • Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page

The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  • Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  • Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  • Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  • Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  • Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract

APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  • Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  • Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  • The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  • The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  • The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .

Table 13.1 Section Headings

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Citation Guidelines

In-text citations.

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

References Section

In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.

Key Takeaways

  • Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
  • Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
  • APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
  • APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
  • In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Indian J Plast Surg
  • v.43(2); Jul-Dec 2010

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Authorship issue explained

Surajit bhattacharya.

Editor, IJPS E-mail: ni.oc.oohay@hbtijarus

When it comes to the fact that who should be an author and who should not be offered ghost authorship, it seem we are all in agreement.[ 1 ] Each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take responsibility for the content. Authorship credit should be based only on substantial contributions to (a) conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data; and to (b) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and on (c) final revision of the version to be published. Conditions (a), (b), and (c) must all are met.

However, when it comes to the sequence of authorship there seems to be a grey zone and exploitation at both ends of the spectrum. We have come across aggrieved Unit Chiefs and displeased residents in almost equal numbers. It is important for young authors to understand that there are two positions that count, the first author and the last author. Attached to either position is the status associated with being the author for correspondence. The best combination when one is young is to be first author and the author for correspondence. As one’s career progresses, being last author and author for correspondence signals that this is a paper from one’s Unit, he/she is the main person responsible for its contents, and a younger colleague has made major contributions to the paper, hence he/she is designated as the first author. The guidelines here are not as well defined as for authorship in general, Riesenberg and Lundberg[ 2 ] have made certain very important and simple suggestions to decide the sequence of authorship:

  • The first author should be that person who contributed most to the work, including writing of the manuscript
  • The sequence of authors should be determined by the relative overall contributions to the manuscript.
  • It is common practice to have the senior author appear last, sometimes regardless of his or her contribution. The senior author, like all other authors, should meet all criteria for authorship.
  • The senior author sometimes takes responsibility for writing the paper, especially when the research student has not yet learned the skills of scientific writing. The senior author then becomes the corresponding author, but should the student be the first author? Some supervisors put their students first, others put their own names first. Perhaps it should be decided on the absolute amount of time spent on the project by the student (in getting the data) and the supervisor (in providing help and in writing the paper). Or perhaps the supervisor should be satisfied with being corresponding author, regardless of time committed to the project.
  • A sensible policy adopted by many supervisors is to give the student a fixed period of time (say 12 months) to write the first draft of the paper. If the student does not deliver, the supervisor may then write the paper and put her or his own name first.

The second issue raised in this letter is about the use of plurals. Our insistence of avoiding pronouns I, me and mine in all publications is very sound and logical. Even if it is a single author paper, surgery is a team game and we are virtually powerless without our unsung colleagues - residents, nurses, technicians etc. By using plurals we recognize their vital role in our success story. Where as in a multiple author paper, the author has no option but to call it ‘our work’ instead on ‘my paper’, even when he is writing the paper all by himself / herself, there were many hands helping him / her and it is our Journal policy to acknowledge the same.

Educational resources and simple solutions for your research journey

A guide to authorship in research and scholarly publishing

A guide to authorship in research and scholarly publishing

A guide to authorship in research and scholarly publishing

Scientific and academic authorship in research publishing is a critical part of a researcher’s career. However, the concept of authorship in research p ublication can be confusing for early career researchers, who often find it difficult to assess whether their or others’ contribution to a project are enough to warrant authorship. Today, there are more opportunities than ever to collaborate with researchers, not just across the globe but also across different disciplines and even those outside academia. This rapid growth in the number of global research collaborations, and has also led to an increase in the number of authors per paper. 1 For instance, a paper that was published on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN set the record for the largest author list with over 5,000 authors. 2 Such cases act as catalysts for ongoing discussions among the research community about authorship in research and who should and who shouldn’t be credited and held accountable for published research.  

Table of Contents

So how do you define authorship in research?

The most common definition of authorship in research is the one established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). According to ICMJE’s guidelines, to be acknowledged as an author, a researcher should have met all of the following criteria. An author would have made major contributions to the research idea or study design, or data collection and analysis. They would have been part of the process of writing and revising the research manuscript and would be called on to give final approval on the version being published. Finally, an author must ensure the research is done ethically and accurately and should be willing to stand up and defend their work as needed.  

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) the best time to decide authorship in research , in terms of who should be named authors and in what order , is before the research project is initiated. It recommends researchers create and keep written author agreements and to revisit the author list as the project evolves. 3 Consequently, any changes authorship in research either in a researcher’s level of involvement, or the addition or exclusion of members during the project must be approved by all involved and must reflect in the author byline.

order of authors research paper

Understanding the difference between author and contributor roles

Given the constant increase in scholarly publishing and the continuing pressures to “publish or perish,” many researchers are choosing to participate in multi-author projects. This makes it harder to decide on authorship in research as one needs to differentiate between authors, co-authors, and contributors and this often leads to confusion over accountabilities and entitlements.  

  • Lead authors or first authors in publication are those who undertake original research and also drafts and edits the research manuscript. They also play a major role in journal submission and must review and agree on the corrections submitted by all the authors.  
  • Co-authors are those who make a major contribution to and are also equally responsible for the research results; they work hand in hand with lead authors to help them create and revise the research paper for journal submission.  
  • Corresponding authors are those who sign the publishing agreement on behalf of all the authors and manage all the correspondence around the article. They are tasked with ensuring ethical guidelines are followed, author affiliations and contact details are correct, and that the authors are listed in the right order.  
  • Contributors are those who may have provided valuable resources and assistance with planning and conducting the research but may not have written or edited the research paper. While not assigned authorship in research papers, they are typically listed at the end of the article along with a precise description of each person’s contribution.  

Getting the order of listing authors right

The order of authorship in research being published plays an important role for scientific merit; probably as important to a researcher’s career as the number of papers they published. However, the practice of accrediting positions when deciding authorship in research differs greatly between different research streams and often becomes a bone of contention among authors.  

There are some common formats used to determine author listing in research. One common format is when authors are generally listed in the order of their contributions, with the main author of the paper being listed at the end. This honor is typically reserved for the head of the department in which the research was carried out. This kind of listing sometimes creates angst among authors, as they feel that the order does not reflect the significance of their contributions. Another common format is one where authors are listed alphabetically. While this might seem like a more equitable solution when listing authorship in research , it has its own disadvantages. If the main author’s name begins with a letter late in the alphabet, it is very likely to be overlooked when the paper is cited by others, clearly not a very happy scenario for the main author.  

Unfortunately, globally and across research arenas, there is still no uniform understanding or system for the ordering of author names on research papers. And journals do not normally step in to arbitrate such disputes on authorship in research . Individual authors and contributors are expected to evaluate their role in a project and attribute authorship in research papers in keeping with set publication standards. Clearly, the responsibility falls entirely on authors to discuss and agree on the best way to list authors.  

Avoiding unethical authorship in research  

Correctly conveying who is responsible for published scientific research is at the very core of scientific integrity. However, despite clearly outlined guidelines and definitions, scholarly publishing continues to be plagued by numerous issues and ethical concerns regarding the attribution of authorship in research . According to The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), 4 instances of unethical authorship in research papers include:

  • Changing the order of authors in an unjustified and improper way
  • Using personal authority to add someone as an author without their contributing to the work
  • Eliminating contributor names from later publications
  • Adding a name as author without the person’s consent

A uthors need to be aware of and understand the nuances of ethical authorship in research papers to avoid confusion, conflict and ill-will among the co-authors and contributors. While researchers receive recognition and credit for their intellectual work, they are also held accountable for what they publish. It is important to remember that the primary responsibility of research authors is to preserve scientific integrity, which can only happen if research is conducted and documented ethically.  

  • Mazzocchi F. Scientific research across and beyond disciplines: Challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinarity. EMBO Reports, June 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6549017/
  • Castelvecchi, D. Physics paper sets record with more than 5,000 authors. Nature, May 2015. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2015.17567
  • Dance, A. Authorship: Who’s on first?. Nature, September 2012. https://www.nature.com/articles/nj7417-591a
  • Unethical Authorship; How to Avoid? Blog – Canadian Institute for Knowledge Development, February 2020. https://icndbm.cikd.ca/unethical-authorship-how-to-avoid/

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  • Published: 28 November 2023

Sanofi- Cell Research outstanding paper award of 2022

Cell research editorial team.

Cell Research ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2022 Sanofi- Cell Research Outstanding Research Article Award: Drs Yu Lan, Fuchou Tang and Bing Liu for their paper entitled “Heterogeneity in endothelial cells and widespread venous arterialization during early vascular development in mammals”; 1 Drs Penghui Zhou, Zhixiang Zuo, Wende Li, Zhenjiang Liu, Xiaoshi Zhang and Peirong Ding for their paper entitled “Defined tumor antigen-specific T cells potentiate personalized TCR-T cell therapy and prediction of immunotherapy response”; 2 and Drs Chun-Qing Song and En-Zhi Shen for their paper entitled “CRISPR FISHer enables high-sensitivity imaging of nonrepetitive DNA in living cells through phase separation-mediated signal amplification”. 3 Each award consists of a prize of ¥40,000 sponsored by Sanofi.

The developmental origin of arterial endothelial cells throughout an entire embryo was not elucidated before. In the first award-winning research article published in the April 2022 issue, by combining single-cell transcriptomic profiling and mouse lineage tracing, Drs Yu Lan, Fuchou Tang, Bing Liu and colleagues demonstrated widespread venous arterialization during mammalian early vascular development. 1

In the second award-winning research article, published in the June 2022 issue, Drs Penghui Zhou, Zhixiang Zuo, Wende Li, Zhenjiang Liu, Xiaoshi Zhang, Peirong Din and colleagues showed that naturally occurring tumor antigen-specific T (Tas) cells can be harnessed to develop personalized T-cell receptor (TCR)-T cells. Experiments with the TCR-T cells expressing TCRs from the patient’s own Tas cells have shown encouraging therapeutic effects in patient-derived xenograft models. 2 These findings offer a promising agent for future cancer immunotherapy.

In the third award-winning research article, published in the November 2022 issue, Drs Chun-Qing Song, En-Zhi Shen and their colleagues introduced a novel DNA imaging strategy, termed CRISPR-mediated fluorescence in situ hybridization amplifier (CRISPR FISHer), based on engineered sgRNA and trimeric protein motif-triggered, phase separation-mediated signal amplification. With a single sgRNA, CRISPR FISHer tracks real-time dynamics of endogenous nonrepetitive DNA sequences in living cells. 3

Please join us to congratulate Drs Yu Lan, Fuchou Tang, Bing Liu, Penghui Zhou, Zhixiang Zuo, Wende Li, Zhenjiang Liu, Xiaoshi Zhang, Peirong Din, Chun-Qing Song, En-Zhi Shen and their colleagues on their winning of the 2022 Sanofi- Cell Research Outstanding Paper Award.

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Hou, S. et al. Cell Res. 32 , 333–348 (2022).

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He, J. et al. Cell Res. 32 , 530–542 (2022).

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Lyu, X. Y. et al. Cell Res. 32 , 969–981 (2022).

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Cell Research Editorial Team. Sanofi- Cell Research outstanding paper award of 2022. Cell Res (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41422-023-00904-1

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  12. Alphabetic order of authors in scholarly publications: a bibliometric

    This is becoming an increasingly pertinent issue, since diverse studies have shown a continuously increasing trend in the average number of authors per publication (Broad 1981; Grant 1989; Onwude et al. 1993; Persson et al. 2004; Greene 2007; Wuchty et al. 2007; Fernandes 2014; Henriksen 2016; Fernandes and Monteiro 2017 ).

  13. Authorship

    Authorship. ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 9. Authorship and Publication. The names that appear at the beginning of a paper serve one important purpose. They let others know who conducted the research and should get credit for it. It is important to know who conducted the research in case there are questions about methods, data, and the ...

  14. How to Order and Format Author Names in Scientific Papers

    In academic papers, the order of authors is not arbitrary. It can symbolize the level of contribution and the role played by each author in the research process. Deciding on the author order can sometimes be a complex and sensitive issue, making it crucial to understand the different roles and conventions of authorship in scientific research.

  15. Defining authorship in your research paper

    Our white paper Co-authorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences: A global view explores the experiences of 894 researchers from 62 countries. If you are a named co-author, this means that you: Made a significant contribution to the work reported.

  16. Tips for determining authorship credit

    Several reasons for why authorship order may be revised include: The actual contributions of authors differed significantly from the originally expected contributions at the beginning of the project. An author would like to accept increased responsibility, or would like to delegate a portion of her or his responsibility to other authors.

  17. The meaning of author order in medical research

    Methods: The published contributions of each author of original research articles with a minimum of four authors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal in a 3-year period after author contribution forms were required were coded into 1 of ...

  18. 13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

    Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch. Use double-spaced text throughout your paper. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point). Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section.

  19. Academic authorship

    3 Order of authors in a list 4 Responsibilities of authors 5 Unconventional types of authorship Toggle Unconventional types of authorship subsection 5.1 Honorary authorship 5.2 Gift, guest and rolling authorship 5.3 Ghost authorship 5.4 Anonymous and unclaimed authorship 5.5 Non-human authorship 6 See also 7 References 8 Further reading

  20. What are the acceptable reasons for changing order of authors ...

    The order of authors for a paper usually reflects their level of contribution. The first author contributes the most significantly, the second author to a lesser extent, and so on. The corresponding author is typically the department head. So, changing the order of authors for a paper should reflect a change in their amount of contribution.

  21. Authorship issue explained

    Authorship credit should be based only on substantial contributions to (a) conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data; and to (b) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and on (c) final revision of the version to be published. Conditions (a), (b), and (c) must all are met.

  22. A guide to authorship in research and scholarly publishing

    One common format is when authors are generally listed in the order of their contributions, with the main author of the paper being listed at the end. This honor is typically reserved for the head of the department in which the research was carried out.

  23. Publishing ethics

    Authors may be asked to provide the research data supporting their paper for editorial review and/or to comply with the open data requirements of the journal. Authors should be prepared to provide public access to such data, if practicable, and should be prepared to retain such data for a reasonable number of years after publication.

  24. CRediT author statement

    CRediT author statement. CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) was introduced with the intention of recognizing individual author contributions, reducing authorship disputes and facilitating collaboration. The idea came about following a 2012 collaborative workshop led by Harvard University and the Wellcome Trust, with input from researchers, the ...

  25. Sharing research data for journal authors

    These brief, peer-reviewed articles complement full research papers and are an easy way to receive proper credit and recognition for the work you have done. Research elements are research outputs that have come about as a result of following the research cycle - this includes things like data, methods and protocols, software, hardware and more.

  26. The use of AI and AI-assisted technologies in writing for Elsevier

    The only exception is if the use of AI or AI-assisted tools is part of the research design or research methods (such as in AI-assisted imaging approaches to generate or interpret the underlying research data, for example in the field of biomedical imaging). If this is done, such use must be described in a reproducible manner in the methods section.

  27. 'ChatGPT detector' catches AI-generated papers with ...

    A text-classifier tool produced by OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, also performed poorly — it was able to spot AI-written introductions with an accuracy of around 10-55%. The new ChatGPT catcher ...

  28. Sanofi- Cell Research outstanding paper award of 2022

    We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2022 Sanofi- Cell Research Outstanding Research Article Award: Drs Yu Lan, Fuchou Tang and Bing Liu for their paper entitled "Heterogeneity in ...