Should the first author be the one that worked the most? And then by the amount of work order (descending), but the last one the most-senior researcher?

Are there other ways? Which ones?

Does it vary from field to field? I've heard some areas or even some conferences always ask for alphabetical order. But then there are evaluation committees that count for how many first-author or last-author publications does a researcher have. Can someone provide exhaustive insight into how this is done across many fields?

  • 2
    I always consider the most work is done by the author with the fewest titles...
    – Solar Mike
    Mar 1 '19 at 21:01
  • 1
    Also possible duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/q/119201/75368
    – Buffy
    Mar 1 '19 at 21:08
  • @Anyon, I don't think so. This is more about explaining the order, more than just the first author.
    – bryant1410
    Mar 1 '19 at 21:09
  • 2
    This is field dependent. Look for other similar questions here for answers.
    – Buffy
    Mar 1 '19 at 21:09
  • Yeah, for the one mentioned by @Buffy I think it is. Thanks!
    – bryant1410
    Mar 1 '19 at 21:09

Ask a hundred academics and get one hundred differing answers. Disciplines do differ.

  • Some base in on who did the most work.
  • Some base it on who developed the idea.
  • Some base it on a hierarchy (my lab me first).
  • Some do alphabetical.
  • Some do "equal author contributions."
  • Some horse-trade, I get first on this as you got first on last. Many types of horse-trade exist and some move outside the domain of the research.
  • Some do it based on need. I need to be first to keep my job but you do not. I need it for tenure and you are tenured.
  • Some do it based on who wrote most of the paper.
  • Some do it on random numbers or similar.
  • Some decide in advance before the process starts.
  • Some give it to the person who made the big breakthrough.
  • Some give it to the organizer who pushed everyone and harassed everyone to get it done.
  • Some people just do not care so give it to the person who asks first.
  • Some give it to the person who got the funding.

My process is that you essentially know by the end of a research process and writing of a paper who should be the lead author and then the horse-trading begins. I have fun with it and I really dislike teams who spend more time on discussing this than the research.


It very much depends on the field. In pure math, for example, authors lists are universally alphabetical. When John Doe puts these papers on his CV, they show up as

John Doe (with Albert Aagard, Joe Hilbert, and Zoe Zorn): "Acylic graphs have no co-orbits of degree 18", Journal of Improbable Results, vol. 2789, 2019.

(i.e., the list of authors as given is not even in the order that's printed on the paper). Many other communities have varying other conventions. For example, they may sort the author list in order of contribution, or they may put the senior author last. It really all depends.


Usually first author = writer, grad student, main worker.

second = other grad student who did some work

Third = advisor

(This assumes single group work.)

If two (plus groups), it will usually be something like:

worker1, helper1, advisor1, worker2, helper2, advisor2

With 2 being another group, for instance the measurement group as opposed to the synthesis group). You can use your brain to extrapolate to more than two groups or to situations where there is more than one worker/helper/advisor or some roles are missing.

  • 3
    That may be entirely true in some fields and entirely false in others.
    – Buffy
    Mar 1 '19 at 22:32
  • Fair comment. My answer applies to experimental physics, chemistry, bio, geo, and associated applied fields like engineering and medicine. It does not apply (perhaps) in some fields like math, CS [and the questioner is a CS]. Or in 100+ person mega papers in physics or bio.
    – guest
    Mar 1 '19 at 22:36
  • 2
    Since I voted to close, I won't give a formal answer, but the answer for your paper is whatever is the custom in your field. In CS it is normally alphabetical. Also, not including advisors on doctoral work can be the standard or forbidden. My doctoral students (CS) never include me on that work, nor would I expect it. Likewise math.
    – Buffy
    Mar 1 '19 at 22:46
  • That's because math is still not part of "Big Science". Kudos to math. Science, however, is part of Big Science. CS...donno.
    – guest
    Mar 1 '19 at 22:55
  • That order is not true in all parts of engineering...
    – Solar Mike
    Mar 3 '19 at 7:14

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