The answer, in theory, is trivial -- add them if you think they contributed -- but there are some nuances...

1) This person (who left about 4 months ago) was a more senior researcher (not Prof. title, in fact below the Prof.) who was in charge of managing a small research group that I'm part of. This person expected to be in the author list of all papers, given the seniority, even with minimal contribution (1h meetings every 2-3 weeks where basically I explained what I was doing and was given some high level comments)

2) We did have a couple of meetings prior to the departure, where the idea (the 'direction', the 'goal') of the research was agreed upon and how it could be tackled.

3) We agreed on a possible solution that I proposed, but this solution did not work (the person is not aware of this, since we haven't been in touch since the departure) and the paper is now quite different. Even though the technique I'm using now was brought up in a conversation, I had already had the idea that it could work so it was not this person's contribution (although the person might think so because it was 'said first').

4) We have had previous arguments over paper authorship, and I gave in and added the person just to be in their good graces.

I do not think this person contributed enough, given that the initial idea was mine, the solution was mine, the paper and experiments were done by me. But I don't want another enemy in academia. At the same time I have negative emotions toward this person because I was on the receiving end of some name calling and threats during a previous argument that affected me negatively.

Thanks for any input.

EDIT: I'm a postdoc.

  • ".. don't want another enemy .." (italics by me) Ouch.
    – Karl
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


It is good to minimize the number of academic enemies you have. Purely as a strategic move you might just want to ask them unless it seriously offends you. That seems better than making an assumption one way or another.

How much contribution is enough depends on a lot of things, including field and place, of course. But helping with "high level" direction doesn't sound like it is trivial.

Of course, in asking if they would like to be on the paper you could say that the "paper has evolved quite a lot since you were last involved".

Pick your fights for when they really matter, I think. Especially as a post-doc who wants to move up.


Supposing potential coauthors are not for or against the coauthorship and you do not think that either approach is non-ethical (see the Vancouver conventions below for a widely used necessary and sufficient criteria for authorship; your field may vary), send an email and ask them. Have the paper draft (with or without their name) as an attachment.

Dear title name, We have continued working on the paper after you left. Here is the present draft that we are considering submitting. Would you like to remain/be an author and if so, could you read through it and suggest improvements?

The idea is to ask if they interested and ask for input at the same time. If they do not answer, then after reminders and other good faith attempts at contacting them, they have not given their final approval and you do not need to include them as an author; do acknowledge them as appropriate, of course.

For reference, Vancouver conventions, from https://www.etikkom.no/en/library/practical-information/legal-statutes-and-guidelines/the-vancouver-recommendations/. These need to be interpreted charitably to make sense for less experimental fields.

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

The best advice is to be professional. The professional thing to do is likely to add this person as an author for your stated reasons given that they did contribute to the paper.

I had a similar situation arise with authorship a few years ago. My coauthor and I had a falling out. Prior to this we were working on a manuscript where we agreed to both be first authors. After the falling out, I had the opportunity to list myself as the only first author. At the time, I felt very indignant. Later I realized that the fault for the fallout was largely of my own making.

I am thankful that I stayed professional and cringe at the idea of not being professional now that the emotional cloud has lifted away. I would have gained nothing by doing so and only lost. Keeping the author order as agreed allowed things to normalize again.

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