After reading the question Mentor trying to be first author?, I got the impression that (at least in the writers' field) the "corresponding author" flag could carry an implied meaning, such as "did more work than the other authors", or "is a more senior author". Is it the case?

I am in mathematics, a field where we typically sort the authors alphabetically, and I've never given any importance to that role (apart from "this author is willing to answer a couple of extra e-mails, if needed").

  • 4
    Good question. I've wondered about that too. I once has a co-author on a project, who happened to be the PI for the contract that paid for people to work on that project, but had done zero work on the project himself. He was suspiciously eager to be corresponding author. Afterwards, I wondered what he knew that I didn't. – Faheem Mitha May 18 '13 at 17:53
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    Many publishers would require the corresponding author to reply (within 2-5 days!) during typesetting of the paper. – user7124 May 19 '13 at 21:11
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    This seems very much field-dependent. – David Z May 19 '13 at 23:12
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    I though that corresponding author is simply the one, takes care of submitting the article and communicating with the editor. – Martin Apr 22 '14 at 8:04
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    "This person has a stable email address" – Fomite Jun 20 '15 at 17:19
up vote 21 down vote accepted

Corresponding authorship is often used to signal the person who is the primary contributor to the work. I've seen this in fields like economics where there is a relatively strong norm of listing authors alphabetically. In these cases, the primary contributor is signaled with the corresponding author designation. I've seen people go so far as to list corresponding authorship on their CVs when they list their papers although I think this is far from the norm.

In fields where authorship is not simply alphabetic, I've seen the corresponding author designation used to flag the second author as a major contributor because, even in cases of so called "dual-first authorship," somebody's name has to come first.

In lots of other fields, it caries little signal value and really is just used to mark the person who is in the best position to answer questions about the work. Of course, the person marked as best able to answer question will, mostly likely, be someone who was involved in a wide variety of the research reported in the paper.

  • Can corresponding authorship be used to override the "first author is primary author" presumption that seems to be common in some (e.g. biomedical) fields? – Faheem Mitha May 19 '13 at 7:56
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    @FaheemMitha Not in my experience, no. It's generally just "A senior person" and often just "Someone with a stable email address". I've never seen anyone assert that it "trumps" the position of the first author. – Fomite May 20 '13 at 0:58
  • @FaheemMitha: It will signal "primary author" when the order is alphabetical. But if the order is not alphabetical (or not in a field where that is normal), it will not trump first authorship that came from explicit ordering. – Benjamin Mako Hill May 20 '13 at 14:53

In theoretical computer science, "corresponding author" does not carry any implied meaning related to who is the primary contributor.

The coauthors are listed in alphabetical order. The corresponding author might be, for example, the coauthor who took care of the interaction with the publisher, or a coauthor with a fairly permanent mailing address.

In pre-prints, conference abstracts, etc. we do not usually mention any corresponding author. This is just a piece of information that is required by journal publishers.

There is no prestige related to it. Certainly you will not list this kind of information in your CV.

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    Similarly, no prestige in mathematics, of which I'm aware. If anything, perhaps the opposite, since the "corresponding author" is the one who has to deal with... correspondence. – paul garrett May 19 '13 at 22:01

I am sure it can be used for many meanings. I will provide the ones with which I am familiar:

First, corresponding author means it is the person to contact if you have questions about the research. The reasons for this is what varies.

  • The first author(s) are not employed at a universiy or are students
  • The first author has done much of the leg work but someone else (a senior scientist has provided the original idea, funding aetc.)
  • Some is specifically responsible for a project in which the work for the publication has been made. There may be legal requirements that a specific person should handl correspondence, for example in a company
  • In some fields the most important author is not first, in which case the flag can be used.

Sometimes you will see first authors stating they are corresponding author. This is mostly implied by default in fields where the first authorship means also doing most of the intellectual work.

I am sure there are additional examples which hopefuly are added by additional posts.

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, a German research funder, uses corresponding authorship as a criterion for paying publication costs with open-access publishers (source).

In this context, the corresponding author is the one whose funder paid for the publication.

In biology, the designation "corresponding author" is sometimes used to indicate the senior author(s) of a paper. A senior author is typically the professor, which may have a central role in the project but will usually not do any of the actual experimental work. Usually the senior author is listed last, but in cases of collaborations where there are multiple senior authors that contributed equally, this would sometimes be indicated by giving these authors a "corresponding author" designation.

However even within biology there is a lot of variation and this could mean different things.

  • Is the first paragraph of your answer extend-able to Bio-sciences? – scaaahu Jun 20 '15 at 8:54
  • @scaaahu probably, but there is a lot variation especially in disciplines that interface with fields in which authorship works differently (e.g. bioengineering, bioinformatics). – Bitwise Jun 20 '15 at 10:02
  • Interestingly, as a biologist too (molecular) - the practice i've been taught is to look at the first (junior, the one who did the physical work) and last author (the senior, mastermind). Last one is often corresponding one, but not always. I guess practices really vary from lab to lab. – Empischon Jul 26 at 7:56
  • @Empischon this is indeed the general practice, but complications come from having multiple first/last authors which contributed equally. – Bitwise Jul 26 at 11:11

In my field of Physics, there seems to be no implied meaning - the 3 papers that I have got published recently, I have been the first and corresponding author, primarily due to, as Jukka and Peter have mentioned, to doing most of the legwork and having the responsibility for the research.

Also, it can be seen as a logisitcs thing, where the corresponding author is the port-of-call during the proofing/editing stages by the journal.

The corresponding author is the author designated to be the first point of contact by readers of the paper. In theory, authors could use any rule they like to decide which author is the corresponding author.

However, in my experience, the corresponding author is often the author who has made the largest contribution or an author who has made one of the larger contributions to the paper. The corresponding author is also often chosen as someone who is likely to have a stable contact address and is likely to remain in academia for some time to come. In that case, supervisors are sometimes corresponding authors rather than students (even where the student has done most of the work). A similar pattern can hold in the case of industry collaborations where the academic may be the corresponding author.

Importantly, in most models of ethical publishing, all authors are meant to take responsibility for the claims in the published work.

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