Lead Author Vs First Author
The authorship of scientific papers is often a complex issue. Various authors have different motivations for contributing to the research and it may be difficult to determine which researcher deserves first authorship.
Being the first author can have a significant impact on career progression. This is because the first name readers see and citation rules (e.g., et al) make it prominent.
In most research fields, author order is decided by relative contribution. Those who made the most significant contributions to the work are listed first and others are listed in descending order of contribution. However, a few fields, particularly those with large group projects, use other methods, such as an alphabetical list or negotiation of the order.
Norms of authorship vary across fields, countries and institutions, and early-career researchers should be familiar with them in their own field. In general, the lead author is the person who makes the greatest practical/intellectual contributions to the work, including designing the study, acquiring and analyzing data from experiments and writing the manuscript. This is a big responsibility and should not be underestimated! First authors also get their name in every future citation of the work. This can have a major impact on future career opportunities, and should be considered carefully by those planning their research. Moreover, the position of lead author can affect the reputation of the entire paper, both internally and externally.
Ultimately, the decision as to who should be first author is one that must be made by each research group. Ideally, this should be discussed prior to the work being done and should be negotiated regularly as new collaborators are added or others may choose to not continue working on the project.
It’s also important to remember that the last author position is traditionally reserved for the supervisor/principal investigator who oversaw the project. This person receives much of the credit when the project is successful and takes the flak when something goes wrong.
This makes it more important than ever for students to carefully consider whether they want to be a first or last author on the final paper. This is a position that will be displayed on their CV and can have consequences that extend beyond the academic realm. It’s important for students to understand these implications before agreeing to any arrangement with their supervisors.
The first author typically makes the most substantial contributions to a project, including designing experiments, acquiring and analyzing data from experimentation, and writing the manuscript. This person may also serve as the corresponding author.
The last author is often the supervisor or principal investigator who oversees the research and receives much of the credit when things go well, and the criticism when they don’t. The last author can be the corresponding author, as well, though this role may be filled by another person.
It’s sometimes difficult to determine who deserves which position on the list of authors, especially when the names of senior faculty members and undergraduate students appear side by side. The order of authorship should reasonably reflect the amount of contribution each person made, but this requires case-by-case assessment and negotiation between authors. It’s worth taking the time to work out these issues as early as possible, to avoid disputes and potential mediation later on.
Disputes over authorship can occur for many reasons. Often, it’s about who should be first author. This is because the first author position is seen as the most prestigious and an important indicator of productivity. Sometimes it can even be a matter of who wrote the manuscript.
Typically, authors try to work out differences through discussions or mediation. COPE recommends that researchers decide on the author list before starting experiments and revisit it as a project progresses. This can help reduce the risk of disputes.
Disputes over the corresponding author role are less common, but they do exist. This position is usually a senior author but can be shared between two authors. Some researchers feel that being a corresponding author provides them with more exposure and credibility, which can be an incentive for them to negotiate the position. Ultimately, however, it is up to the individual researchers to establish their own policies for determining who gets credit and in what order.