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The title of this post if often how I end my talks and show that even though I’ve been the one talking for the last 45-50 minutes, there’s a whole cadre of students, mentors, and collaborators behind the science. And I will admit that I have had, on the whole, generally good experiences with coauthors. Perhaps so much so that when things don’t go as smoothly, I really notice it. And I’ve only had one coauthoring experience that I would describe as truly awful (and perhaps unsurprisingly, that paper was never published).

So below are a few nuggets. It’s not advice, or meant to be prescriptive, but is more about the ethos that we (my coauthors and I) have tried to adopt over the last 15 years. It’s never been something that someone sat me down to explain, and I’ve picked it up over the years working for (and with) folks at universities, NGOs, quasi-NGOs, government, and community groups.

 

Authorship

Always (ALWAYS) discuss this up front, but be open enough to discuss it again as projects change. I am a huge fan of the CLEAR Lab’s Equity in Author Order post, and highly recommend it. Different folks in different places (geographically, career-wise) have different pressures. Read Max’s post above which lays it out better than I ever could.

 

Journal

We all have preferences for journals, and different factors that go into picking one. Some folks do/don’t have funds for open access. Some have to play the impact factor game. Some need something out quick (more on this below). We always try to come up with a list of 2-3 so that there isn’t a lot of back-and-forth in the case of desk rejects (which happen often enough).

 

Time

With very few exceptions, there are no hard limits on getting things submitted. Not necessarily everyone on the team has a huge time allocation for research, and speaking from personal experience, timelines of “get this back in a week” aren’t likely to be met with compliance. It obviously depends on one’s team, but I found that at least 3 weeks for minor comments worked for a bunch of our papers (especially with larger teams). And obviously longer for things like first drafts or major changes. Whenever we suggest a deadline, we usually include the caveat that if someone feels they can’t make it, we can happily accommodate if they let us know.

The same goes for revisions. I have yet to be denied additional time from a journal to complete revisions, so long as they know it’s coming. And believe me, I have certainly asked frequently.

 

Software

There are lots of tools for writing papers these days. Overleaf, Google docs, Word, TeX, papyrus, and no doubt others. There are likely to be legitimate preferences for one over the other, and finding a consensus (with rationale for why) is another piece that brings everyone on board. For several years, I was in the field & working offline for large chunks of time so Google Docs was less than ideal, for example. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

 

Communication

I mean, this one is pretty universal. But in this context, I mean keeping everyone in the loop about where things are. Not all journals email all coauthors about decisions, and sometimes folks who aren’t coauthors will need to be kept in the loop. Send around submitted (and indeed accepted versions) of manuscripts for folks to decide to keep for their records. In the case of accepted versions, many institutional repositories need these, and so it saves an email.

 

Develop a checklist

If you work with the same team, or supervise students, having a quick checklist for common issues can be helpful and save time. Are all references cited listed? Are the figures colour-blind-friendly? Our students submit this checklist with each new submission, and it means we can focus on the more substantive parts of the manuscript.

 

A note about process

With all the above, we try to come to a decision by consensus and after hearing from everyone. Sure, we have suggestions and can have informed starting suggestions, but we get the OK from all before proceeding. Yes, it can take a bit longer, but it means that everyone’s involved in the decisions, and has a bit more invested in the project and its success. At the end of the day, everyone’s name is going to appear on it, so if there’s something grating someone the wrong way, it’s not great (from either side).

The above is just a few of the major “process” things we think about when writing a paper. There are indeed more, and as I said, this isn’t meant to be prescriptive or a complete list. My point is that finding a system that eliminates (or mitigates hurdles before they manifest in a collaborative way has been a huge benefit for us, and when we end up working in other collaborative circles without some (or any) of these, it’s quite noticeable, and sometime unpleasant.

An understanding of everyone’s pressures, institutional requirements, and logistical situation up-front can help ensure smooth(er) passage of papers through the part of science publication where we have the most direct control – producing that manuscript for submission.

 

Happy coauthoring!