Is it considered ethical or appropriate for a researcher to hire a freelance contractor to perform or assist in some secondary tasks related to the preparation of a research papers? To make some concrete examples, what about (1) drawing illustrations, (2) transcribing manuscript notes into Latex, (3) preparing numerical simulations, (4) proofreading, and so on?

The field is mathematics. And the assistant would not be a professional researcher, just someone with some scientific background and relevant skills in Latex, Matlab, or whatever appropriate tools.

2 Answers 2


I see no problem with any of that provided that the funding is appropriate. There may be provision in grants for such aid, for example. Research and publication should be about ideas extending knowledge, not about the manual preparation of documents.

And RAs often do some of that.

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    Thanks for your reply. Should the "assistant" be acknowledged or under which circumstances should co-authorship be considered?
    – user108305
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 21:35
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    None of the cases you suggest would necessarily result in co-authorship if paid. Some might need an ack, I think, but it is a judgement call. Illustrators are more likely to be acknowledged than proofreaders. Preparing simulations may be an "in-between" case, depending on how much the work contributed to the intellectual content. If the work fundamentally depends on a simulation, then the person creating it is a collaborator in many cases, not just an employee.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 21:39

I think it depends on the conditions of your source of funding. If it's a grant or money from your university or whatever, just have a glance at the terms or contract or whatever, to see if there are conditions on what you are allowed to spend it on.

You should probably also have a look at such things as confidentiality, proprietary information, and such like things. If the research assistant is going to be looking at information that is supposed to be anonymous (such as medical records, for example) you need to make sure it really is anonymous before the assistant gets to look at it.

But generally speaking, that sort of work is expected to be done by some such hired assistant. And, it's a frequent way to get some support to graduate students. So unless your funding source puts limits on it, it would seem quite reasonable.

Also: Kudos on being interested in the ethics of the situation. Some people would just charge ahead and spend the money on whatever they felt like. Well done you.

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