How to Choose a Co-author: 4 Things to Consider

Except for humanities, where sole authorship is still very common, most academic disciplines see a significant rise of multi-author papers in recent decades. Scientific studies encourage collaborative work. Collaborating with other researchers in writing publications have many benefits.  Here are a few major ones:

a.       Sharing the writing and other related work;
b.       Complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses;
c.       Helping each other with career advancement;
d.       Opportunities to network and build relationship for future collaboration.

 When you decide to write a research paper that aims for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, you will need to decide who you want to be your co-authors. Many new researchers just ask around their colleagues whether they are interested in writing a paper with them. The answer is often yes.  This method may lead to frustration as the work is moving forward due to that fact that not everyone who is interested can do what you expect them to do.  You will then face a big dilemma—how to remove them from the author list.

Selecting the right co-authors is critical. There are four important qualities that you need to look for when you choose your co-authors:

1. Having expertise necessary for the manuscript development

Your co-authors should have the knowledge and skills that you need for developing a paper. List the sections that you can do well with no or little help and the sections that you need significant help. For example, you may be good at writing a literature review on a topic, but you are not an expert in analyzing and interpreting data or discussing the policy implications of the results. The persons you choose to be your co-authors need to be able to strengthen the sections “needing help” and the overall manuscript.

2. Making substantial intellectual contribution to the manuscript

To be qualified as an author, one needs to make sufficient intellectual contribution to the paper, including the conception, design, analysis, and writing of the paper.  People who conduct data collection, data entry, and other routine work may not be awarded an authorship, although their contribution may be recognized in the acknowledgment.

3. Willing to devote time to writing and reviewing the manuscript and participating in relevant group meetings 

Developing a manuscript takes time. If one agrees to be an author, he/she must be committed to spending time working on it. Authorship is an honor that needs to be earned. Let the collaborators know from the very beginning about your plan and expectation. If one cannot guarantee that he/she will have time for it, it may not be a good idea to include this person as your coauthor.  

4. Able to meet the timeline

You don’t want your paper development last forever, not only because you will lose your momentum, but also because your data or your findings may be out of date. You need a timeline for the manuscript. Share the timeline with your potential co-authors. They should check their schedule to see whether that work for them and be sure to meet the timeline. It is not rare that paper is held from submission for weeks or months just because one coauthor cannot complete his/her part on time.


You want your co-authors to have all the four qualities above, not just one or two. Manuscript collaboration can be a very fulfilling experience. Choosing right co-authors is just as important as choosing a research topic.

Reference
Regaldo, A. 1995. Multiauthor papers on the rise. Science 268:25.

how to choose a co-author