There at least two distinct co-authoring contexts. In the first, there are junior and senior authors (e.g. supervisor/PhD student, principal investigator/researchers). The subject of the article may or may not be your own idea or on the subject of your expertise. In such cases, different authors may also make different sorts of contributions (e.g. data gathering, analysis, literature review).
The second co-authoring context results from the recognition of a mutual research problem or interest. While it is still possible for one of the authors to be ‘senior’ in a technical sense, the dynamics are different as there is parity between the authors. Moreover, the subject of the article is of interest to both authors and while there may be some differences in the allocation of workload, both authors contribute equally. It is this second type of co-authoring that we will address in this post.
How do you know what to write about? Well, you might have a friend or colleague that you would like to work with; together you can develop the research question or problem. Alternatively, you may find that you have encountered similar problems to someone else and that these issues can be explored more deeply with benefit of drawing from you distinct – though complementary – experiences.
Once you’ve hit on an idea and found a co-author to work with, you need to manage the working relationship. This may not be as easy as it sounds, even if your co-author is someone you get along with quite well. You will have different methods of working, different schedules and different commitments. As PhD students and researchers, we are also accustomed to working independently and suddenly letting someone else into your private working world can come as a jolt. Along with different schedules and working patterns come different procrastination habits. This means that staying on track can prove doubly difficult.
Given these challenges, here are some tips for successful co-authoring:
- You need to have a positive relationship with the person you are working with. This is not a sufficient condition, but a necessary one.
- Having agreed on a topic, you need to be clear and agree on the objectives for the article. Who is your target audience? Which journals do you want to publish in? Why are you writing the article in the first place?
- There has to be an intellectual advantage to co-authoring (versus a solo authored article) and you need to be clear about what each author will contribute.
- Set a working schedule and try to stick to it. That said, you need to be flexible. Otherwise, you could end up not only without an article but with a damaged friendship as well.
- Maintain good channels of communication and manage each other’s expectations. If you are not going to be able to finish something by the established deadline, you need to be honest and upfront about it. Your co-author will probably be more understanding of your situation than you think, especially if you address potential conflicts early.
Have any of you co-authored a paper? Or do you have any questions about how to get started?
(PS – This is a co-authored blog post)