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If I have a question about a paper which has multiple authors, who should I email? The professor whose lab the paper came out of maybe? The first author named on the paper?

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    The one whose e-mail adress is given in the paper. – user68958 Dec 15 '18 at 19:45
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    If one of the authors has a footnote marking them as "corresponding author" -- then that one. Otherwise, any of them. – Clement C. Dec 15 '18 at 19:48
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If I understand it correctly, you're a reader of the paper and want to contact the author(s)?

  1. In most journals, one author is marked the corresponding author (and their email address is provided more prominently. It's a good first port of call, and the right thing to do on recent papers.
  2. Otherwise, depending on the field, the first author is likely to be the principal author and most able to speak to the entire article.
  3. If the paper is very old of course, you might have to do some research of your own to find out who is still active and which email address is still valid. In this case, if you can't find the first author's (who may have been a junior researcher and moved on) it might be ok to inquire with the lab director.
  4. If you have all email addresses, you might want to send it to all three. Three is not that many addressees. Five or more would be different - you don't want to send a mass mail.

Also, the content of your letter would be slightly different based on which option you choose. You didn't tell us why you want to email them. (If it is to get a copy, first author is probably the one who is maintaining a personal file.)

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  • In your 4th option - should one send separate individual e-mails, or is sending an e-mail addressing e.g. both authors also legitimate or even better (so they know you approached both of them)? – Ur Ya'ar May 5 at 10:50
  • If the paper has two or three authors, I'd send one single email to all three. If it's more than that I'd be more selective - and also, it is likely that some authors were just very peripherally involved. So I'd make ONE email, but go through the list and look them up: "First author = corresponding author - include; second author is now a researcher/faculty at OTHER INSTITUTION - include with new address; third author - can't find any more in the original institution - leave out; fourth author - now a mid-career academic: include; last author - lab director: include, but don't expect much" – chryss May 6 at 19:20
  • Don't overthink it! People are happy to talk about their work. And if they aren't they'll just ignore your message. – chryss May 6 at 19:20
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It probably doesn't make a huge difference, but your two suggestions are fine. The one you correspond with may pass on your query to one of the others if that is appropriate. The first author may mean something or not, depending on the field. The one whose lab it came out of may know a lot about the specific paper or not, again depending on the field and how the lab works.

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